Other passengers are using rail and buses for shopping and other needs that can take place at any time.
Instead of shorter train waits during morning and afternoon “rush hour” periods, Metro is changing to a standard weekday wait time that will stretch from morning into the evening.
“As we have done throughout the pandemic, Metro will continue to evaluate service based on the region’s recovery, return to work plans, ridership and other factors, including the need for continued funding to support critical transit services until ridership normalizes post-pandemic,” Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said.
Metrorail last week reported between 75,000 and 84,000 daily trips, about 88 percent lower than the same period last year.
The continued low ridership prompted Metro’s de-emphasis of peak-hour service, which began Tuesday. Metro’s peak service periods had operated on weekdays from opening to 9:30 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Service on the Blue, Orange, Silver, Green and Yellow lines will run every 12 minutes, resulting in wait times of between four and six minutes at stations that serve multiple lines. Normal weekday service on the Red Line will operate every six minutes.
The schedule change will result in waits shifting between one and six minutes.
The wait will increase during traditional commuting hours and decrease in the middle of the day between peak hours. Service after 7 p.m. is similar to the past seven months. The system’s operating hours won’t change, and trains will continue operating on the same weekend schedule.
The agency said the changes will bring rail service in line with ridership demands while helping to manage costs. It also will give Metro time to study new commuting patterns, which haven’t returned to those seen before the pandemic.
The use of video conferencing and other technological advancements has shown companies that workers can be productive from home, decreasing the need for expensive office space while offering employees time savings from commuting. More companies in the Washington region and across the country are indicating they plan to offer more work flexibility.
“A lot of businesses are offering home offices as a permanent solution,” said Angela Franco, interim president and chief executive of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. “Everyone is working remotely now.”
And, she said, they are doing so “on their time,” not necessarily during a traditional workday.
Metro officials previously said they didn’t expect a return to pre-pandemic service until at least spring. With continued budget constraints, the agency on Tuesday said this week’s new transit schedule will stay at least until the end of the year.
Despite a reduction in service during peak times, there will be no reduction in fares. Metro said it will continue to charge higher rates during traditional peak hours, even as service levels are steady through most of the day.
Andrew Kierig, a former member of Metro’s Riders’ Advisory Council, said he recently spoke to a grocery store employee who pays $50 a week to get to work. She would save $40 a month if Metro removed peak fares, Kierig said.
“That adds up when you make about $14 an hour,” he said in a text message. “The people we hailed as ‘heroes’ and essential workers 11 months ago deserve to be treated as such.”
Metro’s peak fares run between $2.25 and $6, while off-peak fares are between $2 and $3.85.
Ly said Metro’s board would have to change the fee structure to decrease rates, while noting that Metro hasn’t increased fares in more than three years. Board members were moving toward a fare hike this year before the pandemic, but Ly said those plans have been shelved.
No fare hikes are proposed this year or in the next fiscal year, she said.
While wait times grow during peak periods on Metrorail, they should get shorter on Metrobus, where the transit agency plans to expand service starting March 14.
Metro said it’s increasing bus capacity because of growing ridership, even as rail numbers are mostly stagnant. Last week, Metrobus reported between 149,000 and 166,000 daily trips, or about 60 percent lower than the same period last year.
The transit service said customers will see more buses on 125 lines, with more routes to be added on weekends. More details about the increases will be provided at a later date, transit officials said.
The Riders’ Advisory Council welcomed the news. During the first few months of the pandemic, council members pushed Metro to increase service after fielding complaints of buses being too crowded to provide safe social distancing.
“The RAC anticipates that [Metro] will closely monitor ridership trends and continue to adapt schedules in a way that reasonably accommodates all riders,” Chairman Rob Cavese said in an email.
The transit agency also announced plans to move forward with construction projects this year, taking advantage of a period of low ridership.
Metro on Tuesday announced that it had awarded a contract to replace 130 escalators as part of a decade-long program. The $179 million, seven-year contract was awarded to Kone, an Illinois-based company, which will start work at 32 of Metro’s 91 stations in May.
Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said the escalators being replaced are an average of 38 years old. In November 2019, Metro completed an eight-year project that replaced 145 escalators and rehabilitated 153 others.
With the latest contract, 84 percent of Metro’s 618 escalators have been replaced, rehabilitated or are scheduled for work, Metro said.