WASHINGTON — A plan to permanently cut weekend Metro service is sparking sharp responses about the impact on people trying to get home from work, sporting events and other night life.
Arlington County Board Member Christian Dorsey, who also is on the Metro Board, said any decisions will require a serious discussion.
“It’s always the prerogative to start a public conversation to put something out there, but this by no means is the end of the story,” he said.
Among options Dorsey said he believes could emerge during those discussions are shifting hours so the system stays open later than midnight on Fridays and Saturdays or tweaking Metro’s new proposal to close the system at 10 p.m. on Sundays.
“We are a region that requires transit service as late as possible to keep up with commerce, to make sure that it’s not just a commuter system, but one that people can use to not only work, but to live and to play,” Dorsey said in an interview.
But he said it is “no secret” the Metro does not have enough hours in the week for maintenance.
“What’s the after-SafeTrack solution?” Dorsey said. “So whether it is what the general manager has proposed or whether it’s reducing Friday and Saturday hours to closing at 2 a.m., there’s going to be something that’s needed to ensure that the system can be maintained because we’ve long been running service until 3 a.m. that hasn’t really been efficient from a cost-management standpoint. And the real expense is that we haven’t been able to keep up with maintenance, so that is something that has to be addressed.”
Maryland Metro Board member Michael Goldman, who has focused much of his advocacy on the board on rush-hour riders with longer rides from stations, such as Shady Grove, said he is inclined to “fully support” General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s proposal, since he believes it will help Metro focus on safety and reliability.
“If we need to close the rail system at midnight and 10 p.m. on Sunday for a longer period to get adequate track maintenance and rebuild time I will be [in] support,” he said in an email.
Under the plan set to be presented to the Metro Board Thursday, Metro would make permanent the move to close the system at midnight rather than 3 a.m. after Friday and Saturday service, and would add an early closing at 10 p.m. on Sundays.
Former Metro Board Member Harriet Tregoning said on Twitter that since Metro cannot actually do work on the entire system at once, Metro should just close the parts of the system that it needs to for work, so that riders who need to use the system elsewhere are still able to get around.
Before any permanent changes, there would first need to be a public hearing process this fall. The Metro board of directors could vote to implement some or all of the proposed service changes sometime over the next year.
Maryland Del. Marc Korman expressed concerns about the impact on development around Metro stations, which has aimed to take cars off the road.
Particularly problematic as Metro and the region promote development around metro stations: https://t.co/jS1bvge2Js (2/2)
— Marc Korman (@mkorman) July 26, 2016
Many riders have also already responded to the proposal:
— Stephen C. Fehr (@scfehr1) July 26, 2016
Awful news for people in the service industry. Probably the first move from Wiedefeld that I disagree with https://t.co/1uFjSVVrZy
— Tyler Bilbo (@TylerBilbo) July 26, 2016
— Mills of the Mike (@MichaelMills_DC) July 26, 2016
@amaxsmith When the IAD station opens, what will passengers do as they return on Sunday nights, especially from West Coast?
— Stephen C. Fehr (@scfehr1) July 26, 2016
In addition to extra track time, the move would save Metro millions of dollars in operating expenses.
Dorsey said considering the savings at this point is not useful, since the money may be needed to support new bus or other transit service to provide options for people trying to move across the region.
“To me, it’s not about dollars and cents,” Dorsey said. “It’s about making sure that we can maintain the rail system, because we’re going through SafeTrack for a year, and if after that, we still don’t have the hours in the week to maintain the system, we will have failed the region big time.”
When Wiedefeld made the “temporary” change to close the system at midnight on Friday and Saturday, he said the system had to focus on rush-hour riders even if it comes at the expense of riders at other times of day.
“Think of the tens of thousands of people we move during peak period that, in effect, get impacted by not having those hours available to the track — I just think it makes a lot of sense,” he said this spring.
As part of that change, Metro announced it would no longer open early or stay open later than scheduled for any special events such as football games or marathons.
Dorsey, the Arlington and Metro board member, said the region still must ensure that Metro is not reduced to a system that is only useful for commuters.
“We are a region that has, if not round-the-clock needs, we do have late-night needs,” he said. “But I think we also have to remember that rail is one component of that, and of course it’s the biggest component, it’s the spine. But I think we have to look at data, we have to engage with the public and see whether or not there are other transit options that can meet the demand and meet the needs.”
Those other options could include Metrobus service, local bus routes, or new late-night routes like those seen in other cities.
“We need to think about these things all together, we can’t just have Metro making decisions on the rail side without considering how we’re going to be able to meet the transit demand everywhere else,” Dorsey said.
Metro Board Chairman, D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans is at the Democratic National Convention, and was not available to comment. Because of the convention, he will not be at the Metro Board meeting Thursday.
Evans has said that when the region reaches the end of the 24/7 track work that has been announced through mid-March, it will only be the “end of the beginning.”