WASHINGTON D.C. – Metrorail’s service hours will be changing next year, but officials don’t know yet what those changes will be. Last week, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Board of Directors Customer Service, Operations and Security Committee heard four proposals for new hours of operation for the train system to allow for more […]
WASHINGTON D.C. – Metrorail’s service hours will be changing next year, but officials don’t know yet what those changes will be.
Last week, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Board of Directors Customer Service, Operations and Security Committee heard four proposals for new hours of operation for the train system to allow for more track time for maintenance workers. Each proposal would add eight hours of track time, a 20 percent increase over the current maintenance window, which regulators and Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld say is not long enough to allow all necessary work to get done.
“This is not a new issue. This has been around for decades. We’ve been talking about it for decades,” Wiedefeld said at the July 28 board meeting where he first announced his intentions to propose a reduction in service hours. “We cannot go back to where we’ve been (on maintenance). If we don’t have enough track time, in pretty short order we will go back.”
On May 7, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) issued a safety directive to Metro advising them of the need to provide more track time for maintenance.
“Increased demands for passenger service have shrunk maintenance windows during evenings, weekends and late nights,” the directive reads. “As a direct consequence, WMATA’s maintenance departments collectively have accumulated thousands of backlogged work orders dating back to 2012 and 2013. Lack of track access has left WMATA’s maintenance managers struggling to prioritize the most significant and safety-critical repairs for completion, while deferring and rescheduling other work.”
Wiedefeld’s initial proposal was to keep the rail hours instituted under the current SafeTrack maintenance plan on a permanent basis. Trains would stop running at midnight Monday through Saturday and at 10 p.m. on Sundays.
However, in the face of pushback, Metro staff came up with three alternatives that would provide the same number of maintenance hours. Members of the business community had spoken out against late-night closures because of their effect on profits, and a group of 40 state and local officials from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties sent a letter to the board outlining their opposition for economic and safety reasons.
One alternative would close the system at 11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday (a half-hour earlier) as well as Sunday, and at midnight Friday and Saturday nights.
Another would see rail service stop at 11:30 p.m. on weeknights, 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 11 p.m. on Sundays. On Sunday morning, the system’s opening time would also be pushed forward one hour to 8 a.m.
The fourth option would leave trains running until midnight on weeknights and 11 p.m. on Sundays and extend Friday and Saturday service until 3 a.m., with maintenance time made up Sunday morning, as the rail system would not open until noon.
The return of late-night service is something many riders have long sought, and members of the board indicated their willingness to make that happen.
“We are a big league town and, in order to be, in my view, a big league town, you have to run your subway later than midnight, particularly on the weekends,” Chair Jack Evans, also a D.C. councilman, said.
Others, however, are not as sold on any of the proposals. Del. Erek Barron (D-24), who co-chairs the Maryland General Assembly’s WMATA-Metro Work Group and was one of the leading voices behind the 40-leader letter on hours changes, said he would like more information about Metro’s reasoning behind the proposals.
“I’ve seen the proposed options but there’s no explanation as to the rationale behind them. And why only these four options? Why not have rolling temporary service interruptions? Riders deserve an explanation for why system-wide, permanent service cuts are necessary before entertaining any options,” he said.
The documents board members received indicated all the options were devised “to provide an additional eight hours of track access each week to conduct safety-critical work, while also looking to minimize the number of riders impacted.” Their data shows an impact on 1,282,000 riders annually for the first option, 1,251,000 riders annually for the second, 1,168,000 riders annually for the third and 3,604,448 annually for the fourth.
Wiedefeld said WMATA would look at increasing bus service during late-night hours, potentially adding routes between train stations, as a way to offset some of those impacts and maintain the fare revenue from riders.
With the board’s approval on Sept. 8, WMATA will hold a public hearing to gather input on all four proposals before making a decision in December. The change would take effect July 1, 2017. The hearing date has yet to be finalized, but is expected to take place during the week of Oct. 17.
Metro is also accepting public comment from Oct. 1 – 24 for those who are unable to attend the hearing.