Va. leaders ‘remain concerned,’ but back Metro hours cuts

WASHINGTON — Virginia leaders are backing Metro’s plans to cut late-night or weekend service hours.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission — which includes representatives from Fairfax County, Arlington County, Loudoun County, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax City, the General Assembly and an appointee of the governor — sent a letter Thursday to Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld explaining that the group has now been convinced that the service cuts are needed for safety.

Virginia’s Metro board members also serve on the commission, so the letter signals their position ahead of an expected December vote on the service cuts.

The NVTC had previously expressed concerns about whether Metro would actually get additional work done in the extra hours, whether that work could be done through single-tracking or other service changes and what economic impact service cuts would have on the major developments, restaurants and businesses built around Metro stations.

“Since our earlier letter, NVTC has received sufficient information to support WMATA’s plan to reduce service hours for up to two years in order to perform preventive maintenance. We remain concerned that WMATA has not proposed sufficient bus capacity to handle these late-night service reductions at key Virginia Metrorail stations and request that WMATA collaborate with our jurisdictions to ensure Metrorail riders have reliable late-night transit alternatives,” the letter, signed by NVTC Chairman and Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette, read.

Last week, Metro staff more clearly explained what they hope to accomplish with trains running for fewer hours each week, and appeared to convince several more Metro board members that the changes are needed.

“We acknowledge that emergency repairs and single-tracking surges are not an effective way to operate a high-quality transit system. NVTC both recognizes the importance of and appreciates the intent and rationale behind WMATA’s approach to increasing the time for rail preventive maintenance,” the letter continued.

As it stands, the December vote would make a permanent change in hours rather than the temporary change the NVTC indicates it supports, but that could be changed.

Several Metro board members appointed by Maryland and the federal government have already signaled their support for cutting back hours to some degree. D.C. Council member and Metro board Chairman Jack Evans said this week that the District still wants to maintain rail service until 3 a.m. on weekends, but acknowledged that he believes the system does need to cut back hours in some way to provide more time for potential maintenance.

The NVTC letter notes there are still concerns about the details of the proposals on how people would be able to get around after the Metro system has closed.

“NVTC remains concerned that reductions in Metrorail’s hours of service would disproportionately affect both patrons and employees of the food and-beverage, hospitality and tourism industries,” the letter stated.

The commission urges additional late-night bus service to make up for the rail service cuts beyond Metro’s initial proposals, which would extend hours or the length of some existing bus routes.

“Several of these Virginia Metro stations with high late-night ridership — specifically Wiehle-Reston East, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and King St.-Old Town — appear to lack comprehensive regional connections under WMATA’s current late-night bus proposal,” the letter stated. “In order to address Metrorail service hour reductions, we ask that WMATA work with NVTC jurisdictions to ensure there is sufficient alternative bus service to meet the demands of high late-night ridership stations in Northern Virginia.”

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