Metro to stay open late for Nats fans — for now

Metro will stay open late for Nationals home playoff games in the coming weeks, but it’s not making a commitment to do the same for all future playoff games in the region.

“We’ve committed to staying open,” General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said.

The Nationals are scheduled to host games 3, 4 and (if necessary) 5 of the National League Championship Series on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at times still to be confirmed. Metro closes at 11:30 p.m. weeknights now, which means the last train typically leaves Navy Yard-Ballpark for Greenbelt at 11:22 p.m.

The Metro Board put off any permanent policy changes Thursday, pulling an item from its agenda that would have allowed Metro to regularly stay open late for professional sports playoff games, instead tabling the discussion for at least a month until it can be brought up as part of Wiedefeld’s broader budget proposal for the year that starts next July.

It does not mean the board rejects staying open for fans leaving Nationals Park after playoff games — only that the board is wary of setting a long-term policy of staying open for professional playoff games without the teams, or sponsors, paying for it.

D.C. Metro Board member Tom Bulger asked why taxpayers should be left holding the bag for extra service that benefits multimillion-dollar sports teams. The additional service would also break a 3% spending cap set by recent dedicated funding laws, because Metro describes it as an additional service.

In the past, and still for events like the Marine Corps Marathon, Metro has required organizations put down deposits of up to $100,000 for an additional hour of service. The region’s sports teams have generally refused to pay, leading to scrambles in some situations to find funding from places like the Qatari government or even Metro’s competitor Uber.

Metro is not closing the door on future sponsorships, Board Chairman Paul Smedberg said.

Wiedefeld is due to propose up to $5 million for a contingency fund in his next budget next month, which could be used to cover costs for playoff service or other special events.

“These different entities have chosen not to pay. We have to think of the entire region, and that’s what we’re doing,” Wiedefeld said.

Wiedefeld plans to keep Metro to about 10 late closings or early openings a year.

“We recognize we are a big player in the community … so where we can do it, we want to do it. We’re not going to do it at the expense of maintenance and safety obviously, but when there’s opportunities to do things like that, we will do them when we can,” Wiedefeld said.

Still, he said, Metro is not ready to return to longer hours for regular travelers outside of special events.

“That goes against the first issue, which is, the reason that we have the hours reduced is so that we can maintain the system to get to 90 percent reliability,” Wiedefeld said.

“As the system gets better, we want to look at hours, and as we get the maintenance program where we want it, we will look at hours. But right now we’re still in that area where it’s at that scale,” he added.

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