Metro trains have been less crowded since the federal government shutdown began. (Washington Post – Luz Lazo)

Although the federal government’s partial shutdown is costing Metro about 20 percent of its normal ridership and “a few hundred thousand dollars a day” in fare revenue, the transit system’s top official said no drastic service cuts are in the offing – not yet, anyway.

“But in the long run,” General Manager Richard Sarles said, “you just can’t continue to sustain” such losses. “Eventually something significant could occur here.”

Speaking with reporters Thursday at Metro’s board of directors meeting, Sarles said that “close to half” of federal employees in the Washington area commute by Metro each workday, most of them riding subway trains. With ridership sharply reduced by worker furloughs, he said, the transit system has lost “a couple of million dollars” since Oct. 1, when the shutdown began.

“Right now, we’re just monitoring the situation,” he said. “Like everyone else, [we’re] hoping that it comes to a conclusion shortly, in which case we can return to normal. As it goes on, though, we’ll have to take a look at what further steps to take.”

Sarles declined to specify what those steps might be. So far, he said, Metro has imposed only “relatively modest” service cuts, such as reducing staffing at underused subway stations and running more six-car trains instead of eight-car trains. But the money saved by those measures “doesn’t compare to the revenue loss that we’ve seen.”

On top of the lost fare revenue, Metro has yet to receive the District’s $74 million quarterly contribution to the transit system’s annual operating budget. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) said the payment, due Oct. 1, was not made, because the city doesn’t have the money, another consequence of the shutdown. The District’s budget is appropriated by Congress, and the appropriations have stopped.

“The best thing that can happen is, this situation gets resolved shortly,” Sarles said of the shutdown. “If it goes on too long, it can certainly have a further impact.”