In addition, Metro plans to close entrances at nine stations that have multiple entry points, again looking to save on the sanitizing of escalators, elevators, turnstiles and anything people come into contact with.
“This is the type of event that is going to require shared sacrifice in a number of ways for a period of time,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.
Metro said these stations will close because they are less than one mile from another station: Federal Center SW, Federal Triangle, Mount Vernon Square, Judiciary Square, Archives, Greensboro, Eisenhower Avenue, Virginia Square-GMU and Cleveland Park.
The agency said these stations will close because of low ridership recently: Grosvenor-Strathmore, Cheverly, Clarendon, East Falls Church, College Park, McLean, Morgan Boulevard and Van Dorn Street. Among the group, Van Dorn Street station served the most customers. Metro said 404 passenger trips originated there Monday.
Other stations were spared from the closures because they are near hospitals or government centers.
Metro has 91 stations, and the closures represent a fourth of all entrances that require staffing and cleaning, officials said.
No shuttle service is being provided from the shutdown stations to open stations.
“No one should expect a shuttle bus to come get them,” Stessel said. “It’s important that people really think carefully about whether their travel is essential. . . . Our front-line colleagues are making a choice every day to come to work, and they’re doing it because they know there are members of our community who need them.”
The moves were met with mixed reactions from local leaders, riders and Metro’s employee union, which has been calling for more reductions in service to protect employees.
Metro has made multiple reductions over the past week. Along with an online public awareness campaign that overtly discourages riders from using transit except for essential trips, the cuts have driven down ridership. Ridership Monday was down 90 percent when compared to a weekday two weeks ago, Metro said.
The transit authority’s reasoning is to reserve seats, as well as the recommended six feet of open space between passengers, for first responders, hospital workers, grocery store employees and others who must get to work and serve crucial public roles.
“If it were just the station closures, it would be one thing,” said Katherine Kortum, a member of Metro’s Riders’ Advisory Council, which represents passengers and advises Metro board members. “But in combination with the public shaming of people who are still using the transit system, it adds to the sense that [Metro] staff and Board are not in tune with the needs of riders who need to go to work, get groceries or medical help, and take other essential trips — and who have no means of doing so other than using transit.”
Andrew Kierig, the advisory council’s vice chair, has also criticized Metro for its messaging, as well as a lack of clear schedules that transit users can rely on. But he said he understands precautions need to be taken during the unprecedented pandemic.
“The [council] is keeping the whole region in our thoughts, [Metro’s] front-line employees especially,” he said. “It’s important for folks to listen to the instructions of the region’s leaders in maintaining social distance and reserving Metrobus and Metrorail for the most essential trips only.
“This is a painful step for all of us,” Kierig said.
D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said she was disappointed to see the Cleveland Park station on the list of closures, but hoped the “silver lining” would be residents walking to more neighborhood businesses that can remain open.
“I’m resigned to a lot of things happening now in this crisis situation,” Cheh said. “I think most people understand what’s happening and are willing to agree to things we wouldn’t even have dreamed of a few weeks ago . . .We’ve come to accept that we need to make some pretty significant sacrifices.”
Cheh said she understood that Metro would close a station like Cleveland Park with two other stations relatively close by — Van Ness-UDC station to the north and the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan station to the south.
“No one necessarily wants to hike that far,” Cheh said, “but it’s manageable.”
College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn said he understood why the precautions are being taken, appreciating the fact that ridership at the College Park station had dropped since the University of Maryland’s flagship campus switched to remote teaching.
But, he said, “I’m concerned there are still essential employees who have to go to work, and many rely on Metro to get to work.”
Metro said the College Park station and two others in Prince George’s County — Cheverly and Morgan Boulevard — will be closed because of “extremely low ridership.” On Monday, the agency said, the College Park station had 325 trips, while Cheverly had 159 and Morgan Boulevard had 322.
Montgomery County Council member Tom Hucker (D-District 5) said he was surprised to see the Grosvenor-Strathmore station on the list Tuesday evening. Apparently it was added after a Metro board member sent him an initial list Monday night of stations that had low ridership.
Metro said Tuesday night that Grosvenor-Strathmore had just 230 trips Monday.
“It’s disappointing but understandable,” Hucker said.
Hucker said he understood that the transit agency was seeking to protect public health and that many of its employees need to stay home to care for children because of school and day-care closures.
“I don’t fault Metro,” said Hucker, chair of the council’s transportation committee. “I think Metro is doing the best it can under unprecedented circumstances.”
Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol recognized that Metro was facing the same choices as all government agencies about how to balance service, particularly for workers in critical jobs, and safety in the face of the virus. Her sense was that most county residents are staying home, but Cristol said she had heard from one or two people frustrated by Metro’s service cuts. Cristol said she was supportive of Metro and its “efforts to make these difficult decisions.”
In January, as the novel coronavirus’s impact was being felt overseas, Metro activated its pandemic task force, which ordered a quarter-more hospital-grade cleaning solutions, gloves, masks and other supplies, anticipating that the virus would reach the Washington region. A large shipment included in that purchase has been delayed, but Stessel said officials hope it will arrive in coming days.
Over the past few weeks, the transit authority has given front-line workers gloves and hand sanitizer, and stepped up the cleaning of its buses and rail cars.
Leaders of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents Metro’s workforce, have been complimentary about the way the transit authority has addressed the concerns of its employees. But they have acknowledged that workers are afraid.
Three Metro employees, including a transit police officer, bus operator and stock room employee, have tested positive for the coronavirus. The District 2 police station, where the officer was based, was temporarily closed last week after the positive test for a deep cleaning, and as late as Monday, two Metro stations in Northern Virginia had to be taken offline temporarily because a customer had been visibly ill, Metro said.
Officials acknowledge that absences have increased, but bus and rail operators continue to come to work — though staffing did become an issue over the weekend when Metro had to suddenly reduce bus service Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday.
“We believe that the station closures are a step in the right direction, but not enough,” Brian Wivell, a union political organizer, said in a statement. “[Metro] has been working closely with the union and we appreciate this step. We believe we still need to do more to ensure that only essential workers are using public transportation at this time.”
To help protect workers, Metro adopted one of the union’s recommendations and began requiring all Metrobus riders to board from the rear doors, sealing off the front doors except for people with disabilities. The boarding system reduces drivers’ exposure to passengers and it stops passengers from having to make repeated contact with fare boxes.
The shift made Metrobus rides free, even as Metro is in financial free-fall from the steep ridership losses. The authority said it was losing about $2.5 million a day in fare revenue before it stopped taking bus fares. The agency’s budget deficit also includes $17 million in unanticipated costs for the additional cleaning supplies it is now running short on.
Ian Duncan contributed to this report.