Nats maystrike out on Metrorequest

August 23, 2012

District officials said Thursday they plan to rebuff a request from the Washington Nationals that the city provide “additional Metro services” for the team’s fans.

Team representatives made the request during a July 31 meeting with city officials — three weeks before Monday’s game, after which dozens of fans were stranded at Nationals Park after the last trains stopped running hours before the end of the 13-inning contest.

WTOP radio first reported the Nationals’ request Thursday, quoting City Administrator Allen Y. Lew as saying city-funded Metro service was on the team’s “wish list.” Lew declined to speak to The Washington Post, but his spokesman, Tony Robinson, confirmed the team requested to discuss “additional Metro services” at the July meeting.

The request for city help with Metro costs rekindles a debate over who should bear the nearly $30,000-per-hour cost of keeping the rail system open when sports games and other major events end after normal operating hours.

When the team first moved to the District in 2005, the city paid to keep Metro open during late-ending games — as typically happens fewer than a half-dozen times during the 81-game baseball season. But in recent years, as the city faced budget pressures, it stopped paying for the extra service.

Several Nationals representatives did not respond to e-mails and phone calls for comment on Metro-related matters Thursday.

Robinson said the meeting was focused on logistical issues related to a increasingly likely Nationals playoff appearance. The team as of Thursday afternoon has the best record in Major League Baseball and holds a six-game lead in the National League East.

Among the issues the team wanted to address, Robinson said, were traffic control, ticket scalping, counterfeit merchandise, and extended hours for street closures and vending.

The meeting ran long, and the Metro issue did not get a full airing, Robinson said. In any case, he added, “the city is not inclined to pay for Metro service.”

Monday’s extra-long, rain-delayed game has put the team’s posture on the issue back in the spotlight, and Nationals representatives have not indicated they would consider any change in its current policy.

The team paid Metro earlier this year to keep its gates open after a Sunday game that started an hour later than typical night games, at 8:05 p.m. During other late games, the team announces the Navy Yard station’s impending closure on stadium scoreboards and public address system.

Paying to extend Metro hours has been of questionable cost-effectiveness during more woeful times for the team; for one April 2009 game, the city paid about $40,000 to keep trains running an additional 90 minutes to serve 16 passengers — about $2,500 a passenger.

But with stadium seats increasingly occupied as the Nationals make their run for the playoffs, both fans and city officials are questioning why the team won’t pony up — a team that 18 months ago agreed to spend $126 million on a right fielder.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who is a season ticket holder, noted that both the Capitals and Redskins have arranged with Metro to continue service in case of late games. That includes making a $29,500 deposit, which can be reimbursed according to the amount of passenger revenue generated during the extended hours.

“All the professional teams are doing this, so I think the Nationals at this stage should have to do this,” Evans said.

The new attention on Metro costs also threaten to reawaken grumbling rooted in the city’s $770 million in spending on Nationals Park and its environs. Subsequent lease negotiations left many in government feeling team ownership was ungrateful for the taxpayers’ massive investment.

Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), who opposed the stadium deal, said he would welcome a “reasonable discussion” of how the city can help the team succeed. But he said the suggestion that the District pay for Metro costs is “quite extraordinary.”

“I would like to see what the Nationals, as a team, are willing to do to bring their customers to them,” he said. “What other enterprises get to have a municipality pay for the transportation of their patrons?”

Dan Steinberg contributed to this report.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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