Metro plan for another shutdown could include free SmarTrips for feds

WASHINGTON — After Metro lost about $6 million in fare and other revenues during the recent partial shutdown of the federal government, the agency is working on plans to help riders continue to use the system if there is another shutdown as soon as this weekend.

The Metro Board nearly voted to grant free rides to workers impacted by the last shutdown, but the emergency vote was rendered moot when a deal was reached on Capitol Hill.

Still, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld told a D.C. Council committee Wednesday that in order to provide free rides for qualifying federal workers during future shutdowns, Metro now has plans to provide qualifying workers with special SmarTrip cards if the Metro Board approves free rides during future federal shutdowns.

“And that way we could turn it off as soon as they went back to work, so we’d have an accounting of that, and not just open the system for free,” Wiedefeld said.

“We were particularly concerned about having people just flashing badges and walking through the system. We wanted to account for it in a way that we could, so we have continued to work on that process if it were to occur again,” Wiedefeld said.

It is one of several scenarios Metro has run through to be prepared for additional federal disruptions.

The estimated nearly $6 million in lost revenue during the December-January shutdown — about $400,000 a day — must be made up elsewhere in the budget.

“That cost the region in effect, because that’s lost revenue that we were counting on. And it’s huge, and we’re just a small part of that, as you know. It impacted so many other businesses, and obviously the impact on the individuals that were not coming to work at all,” Wiedefeld said.

Still, Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans, who was chairing the D.C. Council Finance and Revenue Committee oversight hearing, said Metro would continue to do its critical track work and other efforts that have “stopped the free fall” over the last few years.

“The safety of our riders and employees remains the top priority for the system, and Metro will not return to a time when regular maintenance was an afterthought if done at all,” Evans said.

He plans to vote Thursday against a measure that would keep Metro’s current hours, which the agency says are critical to ongoing maintenance.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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