Metro, losing $2M a day, faces ‘looming crisis’

The Washington Metro transit system is losing millions per day in revenue due to depressed ridership during the coronavirus pandemic, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said Tuesday, warning that more federal funding is needed to avert deep cuts.

At a news conference hosted by the American Public Transportation Association, Wiedefeld warned the drying up of federal funding from the CARES Act — Congress’ first pandemic relief bill — again puts the system on the precipice of wider cutbacks.

He added the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates Metrorail, has suffered roughly $2 million in lost revenue every weekday since March.

“Unfortunately, the CARES Act funds to Metro will dry up later this year, at the same time our fare revenues are projected to continue to be down approximately 90%, and our local and state funding sources continue to face financial crises of their own,” Wiedefeld said.

“The reality is that, without additional federal funds, we are left with some very difficult choices to deal with a looming financial crisis that run counter to the economic recovery we all want.”

Funds from the CARES Act enabled Metro to protect customer and workforce health with altered schedules and rear door boarding, Wiedefeld explained, in addition to enabling Metrorail to operate near pre-COVID levels of service for essential workers.

Metro is funded by D.C., Maryland, Virginia and the federal government.

WMATA and its local transit partners in Montgomery and Prince George’s County were granted an $876 million boost from the CARES Act during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in late May. The money was designed to balance the system’s budget while safely scaling up operations.

Metro had asked Congress for emergency funding in March after the rail and bus services saw an 85% drop in ridership during the first weeks of a regionwide virus shutdown.

Metrorail continues to operate on a limited schedule of 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, with trains running every 15 to 20 minutes on all lines. Pandemic-related closures in 18 stations were lifted in late June; only Arlington Cemetery in Virginia remained closed as of July 29.

With the virus death toll climbing and 4.2 million infections nationwide, Congressional Democrats and Republicans are eager for a second deal. There is widespread agreement that more money is needed for virus testing, to help schools prepare to open in the fall and to shore up small businesses.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wanted to hit “pause” on new spending after Congress’ sweeping $2.2 trillion relief package in March. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is taking the opposite approach, swiftly passing a $3 trillion effort with robust Democratic support.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

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Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

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