Metro moves back to pre-pandemic schedule

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 18: A Metro rider wears a mask as she boards a train at Metro Center Station as all riders were required to wear masks while riding Metro on Monday May 18, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)(The Washington Post via Getty Im/The Washington Post)
In what the transit agency calls the “largest ramp-up” in its 44-year history, Metro is touting a return to pre-pandemic levels, with a restoration of most rail and bus services and reduced wait times.

Metrorail’s hours of operation are back to the way they were before coronavirus restrictions took hold, with weekday openings at 5 a.m. and trains running until 11 p.m. nightly.

Some stations on various lines remain closed due to ongoing summer maintenance. As of Monday, 87 out of the system’s 91 stations are open for customers.

Rush-hour trains are running every eight minutes again during peak demand. Off peak, trains on the Red Line are expected to pass every 12 minutes, while service on all other lines will run every 15 minutes.

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“Thanks to our congressional delegation, CARES federal funding makes it possible for us to restore service in support of economic recovery for the national capital region,” Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said last week in announcing the service surge.

“As they return, we want our customers to know that facial coverings are required everywhere on the system, and the more frequent trains and buses we are adding will help you ride socially distant.”

When ridership plummeted as a result of pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions on the region’s businesses, Metro cut back its hours of operation and closed more than a dozen stations to preserve cleaning supplies and get a head start on maintenance projects.

By 5 a.m. Monday — Metrorail’s first day back in full service — there were several passengers standing on the platform of the New Carrollton station in Maryland, ready to climb aboard the very first train to depart along the Orange Line that early in months.

But with many D.C.-area employers still allowing people to work from home, and with persistent concerns about social distancing capabilities on trains, there remains far less demand than usual for Metrorail service.

As a result, Monday’s first regular-hour trains to depart from New Carrollton were mostly empty. Parking lots once packed to the brim with cars in the pre-pandemic era featured lots of space Monday during peak commute time.

Also missing: The normal backups of cars dropping would-be passengers off at Metro stations —  leaving plenty of time to smooch your loved ones in the kiss-and-ride lots.

And with ridership still way down, there’s concern about how long Metro can sustain this kind of service without additional federal help.

“I want it to work, I very much want it to work,” said D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, who chairs the council’s Transportation Committee.

But she conceded that it was “pretty much not sustainable unless there’s federal help.”

Neither D.C., Maryland nor Virginia is in a position to help Metro cover the drop in revenue that occurred when businesses shut down, said Cheh, calling it an unenviable position.

“Who wants their fate to be dependent on the reliability of this Congress and this president?” she asked. “That’s a pretty precarious spot to be in.”

Yet, whether she has no choice to hope or not, she said she believes there will be another recovery package that includes money for mass transit systems.

“I have to think that,” she said with an uneasy laugh. She wouldn’t speculate as to how much Metro might get, and she wouldn’t try to hazard a guess as to what was needed either. But she was adamant that it has to be something.

“This can’t be maintained unless we get the ridership back,” Cheh said. “And you’re not going to get the ridership back unless you have close to full service and a system that’s running a way that people are now saying, ‘Oh, it looks safe.’”

More Metrobus service starting Aug. 23

Metrobus service will expand its hours starting Sunday, Aug. 23, with operating hours widening to between 4 a.m. and midnight daily.

From that point, Metrobus will be restored to about 75% of its pre-virus levels on weekdays and as much as 90% on weekends — expected to almost double its weekly ridership.

View the full upcoming changes on Metro’s website.

More Metro stations reopening

Also on Sunday, Aug. 23, Metro will reopen the East Falls Church and Arlington Cemetery stations.

The East Falls Church station is reopening because Metro said it was ahead of schedule with its reconstructing project. The Arlington Cemetery station is reopening since it had been closed in March due to the pandemic.

According to Metro, that leaves only two of its 91 stations closed for a few more weeks: the Vienna and Dunn Loring stations will reopen Tuesday, Sept. 8.

At that time, Metro said it would make it the first time all rail stations will be open since March 19.

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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