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Metro board cuts late-night service for two years — with a last-minute compromise

Metro’s proposed late-night service cuts would add eight hours per week of extra maintenance time for repair crews. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Metro’s board of directors voted Thursday to cut late-night service hours for a two-year period starting next summer. 

Under the final schedule, rail service will shut down at 11:30 p.m. from Monday to Thursday nights, 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights, and 11 p.m. Sunday nights. The system will also open later on Sunday mornings: 8 a.m., instead of the current weekend opening time at 7 a.m.

The principal members of the board voted unanimously to approve Metro’s proposed schedule changes, despite previous threats of a jurisdictional veto from the District’s voting members on the board, Jack Evans and Corbett Price.

The consensus came about because of an 11th-hour compromise, orchestrated in part by the finance committee’s chairman, Michael Goldman: Under a new amendment, Metro will be required to provide a progress report on its preventive maintenance program in May 2018.

The additional clause was meant to address Evans’s and Price’s concerns that two years of automatic late-night service cuts would provide a “carte blanche” to Metro management. Evans had argued in previous meetings that agency officials should be kept on a shorter leash and should be forced to provide annual evidence of why the shorter hours — and the sacrifices made by riders dependent on late-night service — would continue to be necessary.

“I know this was a difficult decision,” said Jim Corcoran, a Virginia board member, giving a specific nod to Evans and Price. “I appreciate the negotiation that you did to get to a place where you can provide these hours.”

After the vote, Evans explained why he felt that May 2018 progress report was enough of a concession to allow the District to sign on.

“It’s important for me, for the District, and for other members of the board to have an update on what’s happened, how we’re doing, and why we need to do this for another year,” Evans said.

One year or two? Jack Evans on late-night service cuts: ‘We have a responsibility to stay on top of this’

Evans said that the late-night service decision demonstrates that board members are committed to compromise, despite accusations of ‘rampant parochialism.’ He said he believes that Thursday’s vote provides reason to be optimistic that other tough decisions slated for 2017 — such as potential budget-balancing fare hikes and service cuts — will conclude with similar accord.

“I hope that is the template we use going forward,” Evans said.

The schedule changes will begin in July 2017, and will continue until at least June 2019. If Metro wants to continue the shortened hours past that date, they will have to bring the issue to the Metro board again for further approval.

Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld first proposed the idea of cutting evening hours last July, arguing that years of deferred maintenance had created a backlog of repairs that was too large to tackle during the existing maintenance window in the middle of the night.

Metro general manager proposes permanent end to late-night service

That view was bolstered by reports from the Federal Transit Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, both of which said that Metro track maintenance crews do not have enough time to perform proper inspections and repairs.

Wiedefeld had originally proposed cutting weekend evening hours even more significantly — shuttering the system at midnight on Friday and Saturdays, and 10 p.m. Sundays — but ultimately decided on a schedule that spread the cuts throughout the week, following feedback from surveys and testimony at a public hearing.

Metro’s hours are already curtailed for the duration of the SafeTrack maintenance program, which is scheduled to end next spring. Currently, the system closes at 12 a.m. every night of the week. Before the start of SafeTrack, Metro closed at 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

The continuation of late-night service cuts is expected to have a dramatic impact on hospitality workers who, in the past, relied on Metro to get home from bars and restaurants at the end of their shift.

The schedule change has also been a major concern for D.C. businesses, which have reported a decline in late-night business because of the SafeTrack schedule cuts.

“The loss of late-night transit service is not simply detrimental to nightlife, it damages the economy of this region,” said Neil Albert, executive director of the DowntownDC Business Improvement District.

“The [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] board of directors must insist on restoring late-night service as soon as possible, without compromising the system’s maintenance needs,” he added. “Transit systems in peer cities around the country and around the world offer that level of service, and it’s up to the WMATA board of directors to set that same standard.”