D.C. officials are reportedly considering a compromise that would keep Metro running later but push back its opening by 30 minutes, according to a top Montgomery County transportation official.
Under the proposal, Metro would open at 5:30 a.m. weekdays and close at midnight, compared with its current 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. schedule. The system would close at 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, according to Montgomery County Council member Tom Hucker (D-District 5).
The region’s leaders have been in a standoff over the restoration of late-night service, with the District wanting to return to 3 a.m. weekend closings. City officials view this as a compromise. Hucker said he became aware of the proposal because the county is working with Metro to study its feasibility. Hucker, who chairs the council’s transportation and environment committee, said he is concerned about the potential impact on county residents.
“Suffice it to say if their suggestion is opening stations later than 5 a.m. and making it harder for Maryland commuters to get to work in D.C., we’re going to have concerns about that,” Hucker said. “If they want to open Metro Center and other D.C. stations at 5:30, that’s fine. But the first trains should continue to leave Shady Grove and Glenmont at 5 a.m.”
The Metro board is set to vote Thursday on continuing the shorter hours that have been in effect since 2016, with the start of the agency’s year-long SafeTrack maintenance plan. But board members representing the District have threatened to use a rare jurisdictional veto to block any such attempt. Metro resolutions require buy-in from at least one voting board member from each jurisdiction — Maryland, the District and Virginia — to pass.
Metro board Chairman Jack Evans has introduced the potential compromise to board members, and Montgomery County transportation officials are analyzing it.
Evans, however, declined to comment on the proposal or confirm he was behind it.
Evans, who is also a D.C. Council member whose ward has the highest concentration of hotels and restaurants in the city, has pushed for a return to Metro’s 3 a.m. weekend and midnight weekday closings.
When the board originally authorized the shorter hours, it was supposed to be for two years, after which, D.C. officials said the late-night hours should be restored, citing the impact on late-night and service workers who rely on public transit to get around.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) also has been insistent that the agency restore late-night service, but it was unknown Thursday whether she supported Evans’s compromise.
“We’ve been on the waiting train for three years @wmata,” Bowser tweeted Thursday. “It’s time we give residents and businesses a metro system that works as hard and as late as they do. Restore late night service. #KeepMetroOpen.”
Bowser declined to weigh in on the reported compromise proposal through a spokeswoman Thursday night.
“We understand that the Board is continuing its discussion ahead of the Feb. 28 vote, and we cannot comment on their deliberations,” Bowser spokeswoman LaToya Foster said Thursday night.
But Montgomery officials are concerned that moving the system opening to 5:30 a.m. would impose too much of a burden on residents who travel from endpoint stations such as Glenmont and Shady Grove. They have asked Metro for ridership data on the number of passengers who might potentially be affected between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.
“Frankly, I doubt D.C. residents want the position of their D.C. board members to cause more Maryland drivers to be on D.C. streets during the morning rush hour,” Hucker said.
Board members Michael Goldman and Clarence C. Crawford, who represent Maryland, could not be reached Thursday night. In addition to Maryland, the plan is also likely to meet resistance from Virginia.
“On the Virginia side, the change from 5 to 5:30 is going to have pretty big implications for all the local bus services, regional transit options,” said one Virginia official involved in the discussions, who declined to speak publicly about the plan because of the ongoing nature of the talks. “It sounds like a simple thing, but it’s really not.”
Board members who represent the federal government also have expressed resistance to restoring late-night service, citing potential safety concerns and the impact that it could have on federal transit funding for the region.
The Federal Transit Administration has threatened to withhold up to $1.6 billion in transportation funding from the District, Maryland and Virginia — including money for the light-rail Purple Line — if Metro returns to its longer hours. The FTA agrees with Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, who says the agency needs the extra time provided by the early closing for preventive maintenance.
“We’re staring down the barrel of a calamity for the system,” board member David Horner told the board this month, briefing his colleagues on the potential federal response.
Bowser has not responded to the FTA’s threat to withhold funding.
Late Friday, the FTA through a spokeswoman said any reduction in Metro’s maintenance hours would trigger a review “to ensure there is no negative safety impact to the system.”