Despite near record ridership during the inauguration and the Women's March on Washington, Metro expects to have lost money. And with largely smooth operation over inauguration weekend, many ask why the rail system can't operate as efficiently on a regular day.
WASHINGTON — Even with more than 1 million riders last Saturday who largely traveled the Metro system without incident, Metro expects to have lost money on the near-record crowd.
“We don’t cover all of our costs, as we all know, and then when you apply the level of effort that we put at this, you know there’s definitely financial implications of that, there’s no doubt about it,” General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said.
Like the road system, Metro covers the balance of its operating costs beyond fares (in the case of roads, gas taxes or tolls) with funding from or borrowing backed by local governments.
“Even though we had a million people riding the system, we probably spent more on operating the system … we lose money, and that’s something we just have to absorb,” Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans said. He cites the national nature of the inauguration and Women’s March on Washington as support for his push for a federal contribution to Metro’s operations. Currently, the federal government provides support for Metro’s separate capital budget.
“With this new administration who are focused on infrastructure, yeah, I’m a little optimistic that maybe we can get something for our system,” Evans said.
Metro is still calculating the final financial impact of the weekend when factoring in the extra police officers from across the country, extra Metro staff and contractors providing additional assistance at stations. Wiedefeld described it as “substantial.” In the past, Metro has gotten some financial reimbursement for security costs only.
“Pretty much it was all hands on deck,” Wiedefeld said.
Metro sold approximately 47,000 of the 50,000 special commemorative Inauguration Day SmarTrip cards Metro printed before the Inauguration, Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said in an email. At least several hundred people have requested refunds. Some did not receive their cards in time to use the Inauguration Day-only pass.
Trips largely went smoothly last weekend, other than riders who were stuck on a Green Line train for more than an hour late in the day Friday after it broke down near West Hyattsville.
“It’s a big system, and things do occur,” Wiedefeld said. “The goal is perfection, but I don’t think we’ll get there.”
A common question from local riders is why Metro can deal with issues so quickly on Inauguration Day or during other major events, while regular riders have a sense the same things do not happen on a regular day.
“What we could do here, obviously is we basically in effect shut down all the other things we normally do,” Wiedefeld said Thursday. “We propositioned people to deal with issues as they came up, you know, instantaneously, which we just can’t, you know, on a day-to-day basis, we had a lot of overtime … we had all kinds of people, particularly out in the field, that had other jobs that were doing other things for us, so it’s not sustainable, in terms of the manpower, but what will be, and is sustainable is a basic sense of reliability.”
Wiedefeld said he is proud of how Metro and Metro staff performed last weekend. To celebrate Saturday night, “I slept,” he said.