Waiters, cooks, security guards and retail clerks scramble to make it to work on time, having to factor in as much as an extra hour to traverse the region. Shoppers opt to go by car. And trains sometimes come so infrequently that tourists end up confused.
“It’s inconvenient. It’s terrible,” said Shane Mallory of Southeast Washington as she tried to get to her mother’s house on trains and buses Saturday morning with her two nephews. “We pay more and more, and it seems like the system is never fixed. There’s always something going on.”
On Thursday, the finance committee of Metro’s board of directors is expected to discuss the weekend shutdowns and their impact on riders and the transit agency’s coffers, important topics as the board prepares for the next budget cycle this spring.
Metro officials said they understand that the weekend shutdowns can be a major inconvenience, but they argue that the work is crucial to rebuilding an ailing rail system that must meet national safety standards and is nearing its capacity of nearly 1 million rider trips each weekday.
“We went through 35 years without paying much time or attention to renewing the Metro system,” said Rich Bradley, head of the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District, a group that promotes business development. “Now they’re playing a massive game of catch-up. The consequences are there are going to be disruptions for riders.”
The weekend disruptions come at the same time Metro is experiencing a drop in its ridership. Overall, Metro rail ridership from July to December was down about 5 percent, to 101.8 million trips, compared to the same time period in 2011. Weekend rail ridership is down 9 percent, to 13.4 million trips. Rail ridership at rush hours on weekdays is down 3 percent.
Those drops, combined with a decline in bus ridership and lower parking fees, mean the transit agency’s revenue is $20.2 million below what it had budgeted for the fiscal year. The agency also might lose $12 million in revenue if federal workers are furloughed in coming months.
Metro officials said they think the drops in ridership are caused by several factors. The system had to close for nearly two days because of Hurricane Sandy, and President Obama gave government workers a federal holiday on Christmas Eve, which last year was on a weekday.