The good news: Metro is staying open late on New Year’s Eve.
The bad news: The system will close one hour earlier than in previous years. There’s no corporate sponsor to fund the extra service, so the late-night hours will be financed by taxpayer dollars.
And unlike last year, passengers won’t get free rides.
Who’s to blame? You can point a finger at MillerCoors, the Chicago-based beer brewing company that has sponsored extended New Year’s Eve hours on Metro for the past two years.
This year, it decided not to re-up its partnership with Metro, part of the company’s annual “Free Rides” program to offer free transportation options and help deter drunken driving.
Jenna Perlman, spokeswoman for MillerCoors, said the company tries to alternate between transit systems in different regions around the country — a spread-the-wealth approach in keeping with the holiday spirit.
“As part of the Free Rides program, we often rotate the cities and communities in which we have a presence,” Perlman said.
This year, the company is paying to subsidize New Year’s Eve transit service in Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Milwaukee, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Phoenix, she said. The District of Columbia, alas, is not on the list.
And though the Washington Metro is losing out on a Miller Lite-branded service subsidy this year, Perlman pointed out that Washingtonians can still avail themselves of some beer-sponsored transportation on New Year’s Eve. MillerCoors is one of several companies partnering with the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, a local drunken-driving-prevention group, to offer a deal for complimentary rides … on Lyft.
The lack of a New Year’s Eve benefactor might be an inauspicious sign for Metro’s future advertising prospects. Pushed by its own board of directors, as well as the region’s politicians, Metro officials are aiming to ramp up their advertising revenue in coming years.
Finding new advertisers, transit officials say, might be the key to offsetting an increasingly tight operating budget. Metro’s proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year projects that it will increase advertising revenue by $2 million.
But that boost from advertisers and corporate sponsors may be easier said than done.
Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said earlier this month that the agency tried to find someone else to swoop in and pick up the tab for New Year’s Eve service. In general, it costs about $100,000 per hour to run extra service across the whole Metro system. In the end, it couldn’t find anyone else willing to put up the money.
“We reached out to people but, you know, they make their decisions based on what makes sense for them,” Wiedefeld said.
So, this year’s window of extended Metro hours will end earlier than last year’s: On New Year’s Eve, Metro’s rail system will stay open until 2 a.m., which is three hours later than the normal Sunday hours.
Holiday revelers will pay off-peak fares throughout the day, ranging from $2 to $3.85, depending on distance.
All planned rail maintenance work will cease that night. Metro will reopen on New Year’s Day at 8 a.m. and stay open until 11 p.m. Buses will operate on a regular Sunday schedule on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.