Establishments that serve the city’s nightlife added just over $7 billion a year to the District’s economy in fiscal 2020, the study said, and accounted for $562 million of its total annual tax revenue.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), whose office commissioned the study, plans to use the report to push Metro to restore late-night service. The Metro board meets Thursday, and public hearings on the budget are taking place this week.
Bowser has long made expanding Metro hours one of her key issues, saying the city deserves a 24/7 subway system like those in New York and Chicago. Longer service hours, she has said, are vital to keeping the city affordable and accessible to struggling service workers while boosting growth and viability for businesses open late.
“It’s no secret that Metro’s limited hours plays a big role in the ability of nightlife establishments to recruit and retain staff and grow their customer base,” Bowser says in the report’s introductory message. “I regularly say that I believe we need a Metro system that stays open as late as our city — and our region — does, and we could sure use your help as we continue to push that message!”
Bowser and the D.C. Council want Metro to restore the hours that were cut in 2016, when the transit agency began a system overhaul to improve safety after several calamities, including the fatal L’Enfant Plaza smoke incident in 2015. Initially, the extra time was used as part of Metro’s extensive SafeTrack rebuilding program. After SafeTrack, Metro officials said workers needed the time to keep up with maintenance and repairs. Bowser and others note that the cuts were supposed to be temporary.
The system’s midnight closing time Monday through Thursday was moved to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday service was cut back to 1 a.m. from 3 a.m. Sunday service lost an hour, with the system shutting down at 11 p.m.
Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld has met Bowser partway, proposing to restore half the lost hours starting in July. He said system safety and reliability have been restored to the point where maintenance teams no longer need so much track time.
As part of his budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Wiedefeld has proposed pushing closing times Monday through Thursday to midnight and to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Members of Bowser’s administration called the plan a “start” and plan to pressure Metro’s board to adopt later hours at a “Keep Metro Open Rally” at 4 p.m. Wednesday outside Metro headquarters.
Bowser is expected to host the event, where the slickly designed study will be handed out with a goal to let the transit agency know that “The District of Columbia needs a Metro system that functions during the same hours as our residents, local businesses, and workers,” according to an emailed invitation to the event.
D.C. officials also want to let Metro know that the limited hours are not just a problem for the city. According to the study, more than 50 percent of the workers in the nighttime service sector live outside the District.
The biggest obstacle those workers and their employers face? Of those surveyed, parking, rent and transportation to work were the top responses.
“Late-night Metro is not just a D.C. accessory, but it’s a necessity for the whole region,” said John Falcicchio, Bowser’s chief of staff and acting deputy mayor for planning and economic development.
Jobs supported by the city’s nightlife make up 7.1 percent — 65,000 jobs — of the District’s total employment. Nearly 7 percent of the city’s businesses, or 2,437 bars, restaurants, nightclubs and performance venues, operate during nighttime hours.
Most of the jobs workers report to — 71 percent of nightlife businesses — have shifts that start at 5 p.m., while almost a quarter of businesses have shifts that span between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., according to the report.
The $100,000 study found that about 57 percent of jobs in the nightlife industry are part-time ones, and with limited incomes, many workers struggle to find an affordable way home after work.
“We do need these extended hours. It’s not just a talking point,” said Shawn Townsend, director of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture, which was among three agencies and three private firms that conducted the study. “I spoke with an employee who walked up to the Metro thinking it was still open, and he ended up taking an Uber to Southeast and it cost him $50, and that was just one night.”
Many businesses reported a decrease in customers after Metro shuts down. “Four in five businesses believe that extending the Metro’s hours — especially after closing time — would benefit their businesses,” the study said.
The report also showed how much the District’s nightlife economy has grown, mirroring the redevelopment that has sprung up from Navy Yard to Petworth. More than 50 percent of businesses in the sector reported increases in revenue over the past three years, while nearly 40 percent said profits have trended up.
A population surge of more than 100,000 residents over the past decade included an influx of young professionals who patronize late-night bars and restaurants. Adults between the ages of 18 and 34 make up nearly 33 percent of the city’s population, and, the study said, spending on travel, eating and drinking outside of homes since 2009 has grown at a compounded annual rate of 4.4 percent.
The District ranks second among 11 major cities, including New York and Chicago, in per capita spending on outside food, as well as in spending on tickets to theater, operas, concerts or the movies.
Another notable factor driving the District’s late-night transportation desires: Pro sports in the city have expanded since 2005 to include Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the fledgling XFL football league, all of which schedule night games and drive traffic to bars and restaurants.
While nearly 80 percent of nightlife businesses anticipated an even brighter future of sales growth in years to come, the study also noted that many bars and restaurants are vulnerable with profit margins of about 5 percent. Higher costs have led to a spike in restaurant closures, up from 72 in 2018 to 125 last year.
Correction: A previous version of this report incorrectly said that public hearings on the Metro budget are taking place next week. Those hearings are this week. This post has been corrected.