Metro executive details phased plan to return to full service

Metro's general manager detailed plans for phased reopening. WTOP's Mike Murillo reports.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said in an op-ed that the D.C.-area’s transportation system will open in three planned phases that may take as long as two months to implement.

In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, Wiedefeld said Metro trains will run every 20 minutes as local leaders begin to initiate the first phases of reopening.

During that time, buses will run on a Sunday schedule.

Metro on Monday released its plan for the next steps in a gradual recovery from the near-shutdown that has been instituted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are no specific dates attached to the plan, only general time frames based on best assumptions. At the moment, Metrorail ridership is down about 95% from pre-pandemic levels, and bus ridership is down more than 70%, Metro said in a statement.

Metro’s plan expects that stay-at-home orders and other safety restrictions will be lifted during the summer. Their response going forward has four stages:

  • Stabilization, under which Metro will ask passengers to use the system only for essential travel and to use face masks.
  • Managed re-entry, which Metro sees as starting in the fall, when schools are expected to reopen and people are expected to report to work again. In this phase, all Metro stations will reopen and all bus routes will run, so as to give people the most possible space for social distancing.
  • The recovery phase would begin when a treatment or a vaccine are widely available; Metro would return to regular service hours and ramp up service as ridership increases.
  • The final phase, “Resilience,” is a post-pandemic plan for Metro to analyze their response and work out what can be done better next time.

The Metro Board will discuss the plan Thursday.

The outlined plan comes as the pandemic altered Metro service.

Metro has implemented service cuts since the start of the pandemic. Buses and trains are operating on modified schedules, and some stations have closed.

“Metro ridership has plummeted to historic lows and that’s a good thing — for now,” Wiedefeld wrote.

“Customers are making only essential trips to protect the health of everyone in the region. Planning for recovery from the COVID-19 shutdown isn’t like reopening after a blizzard. This is not a ‘start your engines’ moment.”

Once Metro trains begin operating every 20 minutes, the first and eighth cars will resume reopening, Wiedefeld said. Those cars had previously been closed.

As D.C., Virginia and Maryland take steps toward reopening, “we will begin to reopen stations, increase train frequency and operate more bus routes later this summer and into the fall,” he wrote.

All bus and train passengers will be required to wear face coverings to board.

An April survey revealed many SmarTrip cardholders prefer all passengers wear masks and practice social distancing, Wiedefeld wrote.

Riders also favor “visible and frequent disinfecting of rail cars, buses and stations.”

Wiedefeld said the plan to reopen will require testing new cleaning products to be used throughout the day.

Even as parts of the D.C. region begin to reopen, Wiedefeld said employers need to “maximize telework and stagger work hours for months to come.”

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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