D.C. Steps Up to Pay Full Tab for Metro Service After Late Nationals Games
Friday, April 24, 2009
District officials have decided that the city will cover all the costs for Metro to stay open to accommodate late Washington Nationals games after having suggested that others in the region share the tab.
"We want people to have a wonderful experience at the games and not be stranded on the way out," Deputy Mayor Neil O. Albert said. Despite its financial difficulties, the District expects to find resources in its $10 billion budget to pay for the two or three times a season when games run beyond Metro's regular operating hours, he said.
Earlier yesterday, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said the city wanted to talk to its regional partners about helping cover the costs. That drew immediate negative responses from Virginia and Maryland members of the Metro board.
"We don't need to subsidize Major League Baseball," said Chris Zimmerman, who is also an Arlington County Board member.
"We have a working system that requires sports venues to pay for early closings and late openings," said Maryland board member Peter Benjamin. "I see no reason for the state to step in."
By late yesterday, mayoral spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said the District would pay all costs.
The confusion over who would pay for such service began when Gabe Klein, director of the D.C. Transportation Department, told Metro officials in a letter last week that the city would no longer pay the late-service fee of $27,000 an hour because of the budget crunch. Team officials said they did not know that there had been a policy change until Monday night, when a rain delay pushed the game past Metro's midnight closing.
Metro and team officials spent more than two hours squabbling about when Metro would close and who would pay if it stayed open. Some fans said they were confused by last-minute announcements at Nationals Park about when the last train would leave Navy Yard. Ultimately, Metro agreed to stay open past the regular midnight shutdown.
The mix-up stemmed from a communication breakdown, Albert said. Klein said he sent the letter to Metro based on staff information that his department did not have money this year to pay the late-game fees, which occur when games go late because of rain delays or extra innings. He did not check with the mayor's office, he said.
"I'm relatively new, and I'm going to fall on my sword," Klein said. "If the city makes a commitment, we have to make sure to honor that commitment."
The city has been paying Metro's fees for late-game service since 2005, when MLB returned to Washington. The Nationals have refused to pay for the service.
Albert said the city will pay for the extra hour and a half of service after Monday's game, roughly $40,000. That works out to about $2,531 for each of the 16 passengers who entered Metrorail after midnight.
Under a 2003 Metro policy, organizations that want Metrorail to open early or close late are required to pay the agency a fee. Such organizations and events include the Washington Redskins, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Marine Corps Marathon and groups that perform at Verizon Center. The fees must be paid two weeks in advance, and organizers receive refunds if fares exceed that amount, which typically happens with large events.
Metro, which is struggling with a $29 million budget deficit, cannot afford to pick up the tab, officials said. The agency is cutting more than 300 positions and weighing major Metrobus service reductions to close the budget gap.