Metro GM hopes COVID-19 relief could prevent cuts to service, staff

The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package making its way through Congress could help prevent big service cuts for D.C.’s Metro system, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld hopes.

“We’re all hoping that the actions that were taken by Congress over the weekend will eliminate these issues for us,” Wiedefeld said during a briefing for the Prince George’s County Council.

Metro has a $210 million funding gap for the upcoming budget year, and since revenue is expected to remain down due to pandemic-related declines in bus and rail ridership, the proposed budget being considered by Metro’s board contains some drastic cuts.

Wiedefeld said it is too early to know how much could be coming the transit agency’s way once the plan is a done deal. Federal relief from two rescue packages last year saved Metro from instituting other proposed service cuts, Wiedefeld said.

As the American Rescue Plan awaits approval from the U.S. House and President Joe Biden’s signature, Wiedefeld said he can’t update his budget yet.

“We can’t put out a budget that has assumed” any federal aid, Wiedefeld said.

According to the current revenue and projected ridership numbers, Metro starting in 2022 can only afford to offer rail service at 30%, and bus service at 50%, of pre-pandemic levels.

Metro’s board is considering a grim budget. Among the cuts being considered are the temporary closure of up to 22 of the system’s least used rail stations and an increase in the time between trains.

Early turnarounds on the Yellow and Red lines could also be put into place, and service could end at 9 p.m. Dozens of bus routes could be eliminated, and agencywide layoffs have been proposed.

Wiedefeld said the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is a positive development, but under the proposed budget, Metro isn’t planning for revenue numbers to begin rebounding until next year.

As has happened in the past, it’s expected that the proposed budget would be amended once additional funding is officially secured.

As debate over the stripped-down budget continues, this week the Metro Board is holding virtual listening sessions to hear from Metro users about the proposed cuts. During its first virtual hearing Monday morning, those who chimed in were not in support of the cuts.

“It sounds like you are basically getting rid of the entire transit system and bus system, from all these changes that you’re proposing,” said Jerry Garson, a user of the Red Line. “Thirty-minute headways are not really mass transit; they’re just occasional transit.”

Phil Posner, of D.C., said he’s concerned about the idea of rail service ending at 9 p.m., saying it would hurt food service workers who depend on the Metro to get home.

Posner also said the cuts present safety concerns. “There could be an increase in drunk driving and more cars on the road when visibility is poor at night,” Posner said.

Jessica Ford said Metro is a lifeline for her.

“The disabled community, and regular commuters that use Metro to get to work all the time are going to be significantly impacted,” Ford said.

Riders can weigh in on the proposed budget this week during the remaining three virtual listening sessions. You can watch live at YouTube.com/MetroForward. To speak, call 512-580-8850 and enter the four-digit meeting code of the meeting you are tuned into.

Monday, March 8, 6 p.m.

The hearing will focus on proposed changes in D.C., but is open to everyone.

Meeting code: 3811

Tuesday, March 9, 6 p.m.

The hearing will focus on proposed changes in Maryland, but is open to everyone.

Meeting Code: 9131

Wednesday, March 10, 6 p.m.

The hearing will focus on proposed changes in Virginia, but is open to everyone.

Meeting Code: 9141


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.


Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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