Together with several colleagues, proofreader Olien (Pete) Morrow gets off from work at The Washington Post at 2:55 p.m. and walks to the Metro station at Vermont Avenue and 1 Street.
Pete tells me that the Post people arrive at the station, they usually find an attendant getting ready to shut down the escalator and close the gate. Sometines the entrance has already been closed by the time the arrive.
"When they announced they were going to run the subway until middle-night, I whopped with joy," Pete says. "Why are they closing ti at 10?"
I took his question to Cody Pfanstiehl, who seems to put in about 169 hours a week as Metro's spokesman. He was still on the job at 9 p.m. and gave me a quick answer.
"We're not shutting down the system at 10," he explained, "we're just shutting down a few of the multiple entrances. The Metro board of directors tries to save every penny it can, and so that end the board ordered six entrances closed after 10 p.m. an all day Saturday. The north entrance of Silver Spring is closed between 10 and midnight. Also the 4th and D entrance to Judiciary Square, the 12th and F entrance to Metro Center, the Connecticut and L entrance to Farragut North, the DOT courtyard entrance to L Enfant Plaza, and the one you mentioned, the Vermont and I entrance to Mcpherson Square. Those are all closed at 10 p.m. and all day Saturday."
I was busy trying to take notes as fast as Cody was rattling off the facts, and scribbled away in silence for a few moments. When he seemed that I had caught up, Cody went on: "There are two other entrances that close at 10 p.m. but remains open all day Saturday, and those are the Mall entrance to the Smithonian station and Arlington Cemetery. Does that answer your question?"
"No, not really," I said. "We have spent $6 billion to build a system designed to revitalize downtown business and night life, among other things. Yet here we are cutting down on the attractiveness and usefulness of that system by saving a few hours of pay for gate attendants. Every one of those closings affects a group of your potential customers. For example, I would imagine that Areas Stage customers are just inconvenience by the closing of the DOT entrance as the Post people are by the closing at Vermont and L."
The board gave careful consideration to that point of view before it voted to try to gave the money," Cody said. "And let me remind you that at $8.50 an hour or thereabouts, those extra hours cost a lot of money. You're talking about one attendant for two hours at each of eight stations at night, and then two full 8-hour shifts at each of six stations on Saturday. I think if you figure it out you'll find that it's around a thousand dollars a week, and the board wants to save every penny it can save without hurting the system."
"Don't you think diminished service hurts the system?" I asked.
"A little," he conceded. "But keep in mind that the stations aren't closed, just some of the entrances.ANd in each case the board has kept open the entrance that has an elevator for handicapped people."
Well, I guess we have to assume that the board know, more about running Metro than you or I do. Nevertheless, I hope it is not being penny-wise and pound-foolish.
Having spent $6 billion for a transportation system, should we diminish its usefulness to save $50,000 a year in salaries? How much will that saving of $50,000 cost in reduced revenues? How much less revitalized will downtown be, and how many new job opportunities will fail to materialize as a result?
Perhaps the board should consider an experiment between now and Christmas: Keep all entrances except Arlington Cemetery open until midnight. Keep all entrances open all Saturday. After the Christmass rash, make a judgment on how much Metro contributed to revitalizing the economy of the Washington area, then act accordingly. Perhaps we'll discover that it pays to keep those entrances open all year long.
If I owned a $6 billion business, I think I'd be willing to gamble $1,000 a week for eight weeks on an experiment that might improve it. Wouldn't you?