WASHINGTON, D.C. – The holiday spirit of goodwill was present at the Metro Board of Directors’ meeting Dec. 15, when compromise prevailed somewhat unexpectedly in the board’s unanimous vote to change Metrorail’s operating hours. Board members from the District of Columbia had previously threatened a jurisdictional veto of any proposal to cut late-night train service […]
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The holiday spirit of goodwill was present at the Metro Board of Directors’ meeting Dec. 15, when compromise prevailed somewhat unexpectedly in the board’s unanimous vote to change Metrorail’s operating hours.
Board members from the District of Columbia had previously threatened a jurisdictional veto of any proposal to cut late-night train service if it lasted longer than one year. The Customer Service, Operations and Security Committee had voted out a proposal with a two-year sunset. However, D.C.’s voting members ended up supporting the proposal after an amendment by Chair Jack Evans added the requirement for Metro management to present “a comprehensive report” in May 2018 regarding what progress had been made on preventative maintenance and request the new hours continue for another year.
“Part of my job as chair of the board is to avoid jurisdictional vetoes and try and bring compromises together,” Evans said. “I felt it was in the best interests of this organization to compromise, and the general manager was very helpful. I do want to point out, as some board members mentioned to me as well, other board members also compromised as well. Some of the federal members would not have done the two-year sunset; they would have left it in place permanently.”
Starting July 1, 2017, Metrorail will close at 11:30 p.m. on weeknights, 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 11 p.m. on Sundays. Opening times will be 5 a.m. Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. Sunday. Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has pushed for a reduction in hours to allow more time for track workers to complete inspections and repairs, which federal regulators have also said is needed.
“Simply put, our current overnight windows are too short to do productive work. In order to institute a preventative maintenance program- which Metro is currently lacking- we need long periods of time when trains are not running, and the plan before you would do just that,” Wiedefeld said. “We firmly believe this path forward improves the safety and reliability of the system.”
In addition, the general manager would have the discretion to extend the hours later for special events.
The hours plan approved is one of four proposals put before the board and the public. During the committee meeting on the matter, Metro staff said the chosen plan was the most popular option among riders surveyed. However, the majority of riders would have preferred no change at all- and some on the board agreed. District of Columbia members were pressured by the city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, as well as various business associations, not to support cuts in late-night service which hurt the bottom line in industries like bars and entertainment.
Evans, who is also a D.C. city councilman, said this was a difficult decision and a big compromise for the District.
“Two years is tough to swallow, absolutely. If it was up to the District, the District would go back to the late-night hours at 3:00 in the morning. But we all recognize that the work needs to be done,” he said. “In the spirit of cooperation and attempting to get Metro fixed, we’re willing to make that compromise and go along with it. Both for the District of Columbia this is compromise, and for me personally it’s a compromise.”
Evans added that Bowser instructed him to use his judgement in making the ultimate decision on whether to veto or not.
Jim Corcoran, a board member representing Virginia, agreed, and said the board’s ability to come together proves they are serious about their stated commitment to safety.
“This was a painful decision for many people, but we are proving to the public, to the media, that under Mr. Wiedefeld, safety is the most important thing,” he said. “So I appreciate the negotiation that you did to get us to a place where we can provide those hours to the service to make this the safest system possible.”
Lessie Henderson, with Advocates for Community-Based Transit (Act) Prince George’s, was happy with the comprimise, but still feels the time changes will be a burden for the riders.
“Of course it is very important that the work is done – because is safety is the top priority – and that compromises happen,” Henderson said. “However, it is a shame thousands of people will be negatively impacted due to years of mismanagement.”
Henderson also said the jurisdictions should increase bus service to reduce the impact on riders.
“Those Metro board people would have to coordinate with the local jurisdictions to improve bus service and make additions and extentions. Especially in our county, the bus routes stop running pretty early. The Bus must be extended.”
Metro did approve supplemental bus service in the form of a plan called the “Lifeline Network Access Service plan” to help mitigate the hardships posed by cutting rail hours “by building on the existing network by filling in missing linkages to suburban transit centers,” according to board documents. The service was added after survey results indicated customers would use such an option if available. The board documents state that up to 70 percent of survey respondents would use the service. However, with only 40 buses being used for the service, the documents note, “the capacity of the service will not be able to meet demand if all 70 percent opted to use it.”
Some of the changes under the lifeline network bus service include extending service on the F4 and J2 routes along East-West Highway from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekdays, extending the A12 and P12 bus services from Addison Road to Central Avenue to 2 a.m. from the current 12:30 a.m. and adding Sunday morning service (from 6:30 – 8 a.m.) on the 83 bus from Rhode Island Avenue to College Park.
Even with this mitigation, the board documents state that 16 percent of current Metrorail trips would have “No Alternative” after the hours are reduced.
Wiedefeld said Metro would be monitoring the usage of the new lifeline service to evaluate if changes need to be made.
“We’ll watch that to see what type of demand picks up, see how that plays out,” he said.