Metro officials are weighing a proposal by board chairman Jim Graham to keep the subway running later on weekends and to open it earlier every morning, including Saturdays and Sundays.
"This is so much in reach of what we can do," Graham told other board members yesterday. "There are people who want to get to work earlier in the week, and on weekends. There are also people who would like to take public transportation to entertainment centers in all of our regions."
Graham, a Democrat who represents the nightclub district of Adams Morgan and U Street NW on the D.C. Council, was the architect of Metro's 1999 decision to extend the subway's hours past midnight on weekends. It was the first time Metro had changed its hours since 1978 and was heralded by many as a sign that Washington had been transformed from a button-down town to a vibrant city.
At Graham's request, Metro staff members researched the costs and projected ridership of additional hours and came up with a three-pronged proposal: extending service on weekends from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m., opening an hour earlier on weekend mornings at 7 a.m. and beginning service a half-hour earlier on weekdays at 5 a.m.
The plan would mean an additional 6.5 hours of subway service each week, and passengers would make 14,700 trips during those hours, according to Metro planners. The greatest demand would be on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when riders would be expected to make 10,000 trips in the extra hour between 7 and 8 a.m.
"I'm particularly interested in an earlier opening on the weekends," said Chris Zimmerman, who represents Arlington County on the Metro board. "I've heard from many people over the years who go to work on the weekends and would like transit service."
Metro managers have long maintained that extending the hours any further would conflict with the maintenance of the subway, since most track work is performed at night, when the system is closed.
But Metro Chief Executive Officer Richard A. White said yesterday that an increasing amount of maintenance is being performed during the day on weekends and that adding 6.5 hours of subway service each week would not strain maintenance.
Still, the extra hours would come at a cost. Because fare box revenue does not cover the cost of service, the three jurisdictions that help subsidize Metro -- Maryland, Virginia and the District -- would have to pay a combined $3 million a year to cover the expense of the extra hours.
And that is leading to resistance among Maryland's representatives on the Metro board. "Any extra money we have ought to be applied to the present system to make it more affordable," said Decatur "Bucky" Trotter, who represents Maryland.
Metro has just begun holding public hearings on a proposal to raise fares and parking fees to help cover a projected $48 million shortfall in the operating budget for the year that starts July 1.
Andy Scott of the Maryland Department of Transportation said that the state has "major concerns about the fiscal implications" of additional hours and that it was possible Annapolis would exercise its veto power to block any plan to extend hours.
In November 1999, Metro directors approved an experiment to run trains until 1 a.m. on weekends after Graham organized a campaign for night owl service backed by such disparate groups as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, listeners of the rock radio station DC101, the Sierra Club and the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.
The change ended Washington's status as the major transit system in the nation with the earliest closing time.
In 2000, the board extended the weekend hours again to a 2 a.m. closing, with Graham calling it a "terrific bargain" but Maryland officials grumbling about the cost.