UPPER MARLBORO — Supported by The Prince George’s County Council and County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Board of Directors voted to continue its reduced hours of Metrorail span of service and supplemental bus service to continue working on safety improvements on Feb. 28.
WMATA implemented the reduced late-night service hours in June of 2017 in order to implement its first long-term preventative maintenance strategy. Following the vote on Feb. 28, approved by all members except Corbett Price, the reduced hours will continue for one more year.
Under their most recent vote, the trains will continue to run Monday – Thursday 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; Friday 5 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.; and Sunday 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
At the beginning of the next fiscal year on July 1, 2020, the hours will revert back to Monday – Thursday: 5:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m.; Friday: 5:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m.; Saturday: 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m.; and Sunday: 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m., unless the Board takes further action before then.
“This is to allow metro to continue its safe and state of good repair project,” said Board of Directors First Vice Chair Clarence Crawford. “Metro will revert to its previous and longer service hours on July 1, 2020, absent any further action by this board. The resolution also directs the general manager to explore and develop partnerships with transportation networks companies for late night hours.”
The county council has supported the call for shortened hours of service as their “primary concern is safety and preventative maintenance,” said County Council Chair Todd Turner.
During the county council session on Tuesday, Feb. 26, the county council voted to authorize the council chair’s signature on a joint letter with Alsobrooks addressed to WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld asking the Metro Board of Directors to vote to continue their current hours of service.
“We share the concerns expressed by our colleagues at the Washington Suburban Transit Commission (“WSTC”) and the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s (“NVTC”) WMATA Committee that any reduction of inspection and maintenance time could impact the momentum achieved through the Safetrack and Back2Good programs implemented in response to system safety concerns,” their letter said.
According to WMATA, the ability to use the uninterrupted late-night hours for construction has been widely beneficial to the company. Through their preventative maintenance and and capital construction work, unscheduled track disruptions have been reduced by 50 percent and track fires declined by 20 percent.
Additionally, Metro officials said that because the track and train work was completed, January 2019 saw record reliability at 90 percent on-time performance leaving customers to benefit from both the safety and reliability improvements.
Although improvements have been made, the work is still not finished.
Reduced hours are still needed because four of the six component preventive maintenance programs have not yet reached 50 percent completion. Work must continue in order to reach the goal of reducing electrical fires and the safety and repair work has also not been completed yet, Metro officials say.
While WMATA voted to keep its hours due to a focus on safety, there has been some pushback from residents throughout the process as some see it as a disadvantage to people who work in the evenings.
Turner said the council, as well as WMATA, are trying to address those that may not have any other means to get around after hours and suggested that people use a ride-sharing service like Lyft or Uber. However, real emphasis in the vote was on safety.
“I think there will be some opportunity to adjust the hours because as the system gets safer, the safety is the paramount importance and we have to get into making sure the residents want to use the service because it is reliable, it’s cost effective and it serves them in the hours they need,” Turner said. “I think that’s eventually where all the jurisdictions, Northern Virginia, District of Columbia and Maryland, want to get to as well as our federal partners.”
Members of organizations such as the Prince George’s County Advocates for Community Based Transit and the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition have come forward to speak to the board in previous meetings to address concerns with the decrease of hours.
“There are real maintenance issues but maintenance is also being used as an excuse for a lack of political will to provide good transit,” said Chair of the Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition Ben Ross.
Instead of decreasing hours, Ross suggested that WMATA run buses to the Metro stations after closing and run more trains on the weekends to accomodate people who cannot afford to take a Lyft or Uber.
“We have decisions being made by people who think that Metro is a commuter rail that takes people with nine to five jobs into the city,” Ross said. “That’s not what it is. We have people rely on Metro for their lives to run their errands to get to their doctors, to get to their shifts and Metro needs to be for everyone, not just for people who want to go into the city for a nine to five job.”
Curt Harpold, member of Rail Passengers Maryland’s executive committee in Montgomery County also said the group is disappointed with the vote and was “hoping for better.”
“We absolutely understand the need for preventative maintenance,” he said. “Had WMATA been doing the required maintenance from the beginning, we would not have had to live through the lengthy SafeTrack program service interruptions..”
With the approval of the continuation of reduced hours, the resolution specifies that the general manager must provide a comprehensive progress report on the preventative maintenance program in December 2019 along with quarterly reports up to that date.
Ron Holzer from the WMATA Office of Media Relations said the company will issue a request for proposal in the coming weeks to provide subsidized trips with ride-hailing or taxi companies.
“The Board will receive regular updates on the progress of the maintenance program and can reassess the hours if appropriate,” he said.