Metro will offer free rail and bus rides for federal workers affected by the government shutdown, provided the board approves the measure in an emergency vote set for Friday afternoon.
Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans said the decision came at the urging of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who announced Thursday that Maryland would waive fares for state transportation services, including MARC commuter rail, and called on Metro to follow suit.
Evans said the gesture would send a message to federal workers who aren’t receiving paychecks but still have to report for work.
“We support them and we’re going to allow them to ride free on Metro, and hopefully that will alleviate some of the concerns they have moneywise — those who have to work and aren’t getting paid,” Evans said.
Metro staff declined to comment Thursday because fare policy is set by the board.
Evans said the measure has the support of both District board members and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and he expected it to pass.
Asked whether he planned to support the measure, board member Michael Goldman, who represents Maryland, replied “absolutely, yes” and he said Maryland’s other board member, Clarence C. Crawford, was expected to, as well. With the District and Maryland’s members signaling their support, the only question remaining was whether Virginia’s board members — who have repeatedly raised concerns about the agency’s operating expenses — would support the proposal.
Reached Thursday night, Virginia board member Paul C. Smedberg said the state was undecided on the proposal because it had to coordinate with local jurisdictions to see whether they were responsive to the idea.
“We’re circling back with all of our local leaders, and we have a series of calls scheduled for tomorrow,” Smedberg said, adding that he expected to have a better idea of his position early Friday.
Metro resolutions require buy-in from at least one member each from the District, Maryland and Virginia.
Metro estimates 21,000 federal workers will lose their SmartBenefits beginning Friday because the commuter benefits, meant to encourage transit use, won’t be disbursed by federal agencies for the month of February because of the shutdown.
Metro estimates that federal workers make up 40 percent of its rush-hour ridership and said the agency is losing $400,000 a day during the shutdown because of the loss of those riders. The agency said about 136,000 federal workers are enrolled in the SmartBenefits program.
If the measure passes, Evans said federal workers who want to use the system Monday will be able to simply flash their federal identification at fare gates and on buses.
Admittedly, he said, it could be an informal process.
“You’ll show a federal ID and go through the gate we have there” he said. “This is going to be an honor system situation where a lot of people are going to ride free on Metro.”
Luz Lazo contributed to this report.