“THE LATE-NIGHT hours, I was not here when they first came into being. I did some research and saw that when they were put into being, David Gunn, who was the general manager . . . made the comment that this will be the demise of Metro. So there was a lot of opposition to these late-night hours when they were instituted. . . . David’s prediction was accurate.”
That is what Metro Board Chairman and D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said at last week’s meeting of the agency’s safety committee moments before he voted the exact opposite way. Just as parochial political concerns were allowed to trump safety concerns when expanded hours were introduced, so they again threaten to upend the system.
The full board is set to vote on the issue next week, and the District is threatening to exercise a rare jurisdictional veto to insist on longer hours of service. It is clear from his comments that Mr. Evans understands the danger, so we urge him and the city’s other board member to do what’s right to advance Metro’s interests rather than bow to business and other special-interest pressures being spearheaded by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D).
Ms. Bowser seems to have doubled down on her insistence that the current closing hours — 11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 11 p.m. on Sunday, which were instituted 18 months ago to allow sufficient track time for crews to do inspections and preventive maintenance — give way to a schedule that would keep trains running until midnight Sunday through Thursday, and until 3 a.m on Friday and Saturday. Transit safety experts — including the Federal Transit Administration, which has threatened to withhold federal transportation dollars for the region — warn that this plan would cut into time needed to maintain the system. That maintenance has, by all accounts, produced a safer and more reliable system.
The current debate mirrors arguments advanced during the late 1990s, when D.C. elected officials said a thriving nightlife depended upon extended hours. Metro, said Jim Graham, the late D.C. Council member who pushed for longer hours, needed to serve “a younger rider that is every bit as entitled to service as our 55-year-old lawyer who comes in during the day and goes home at night.” Never mind that the system was aging and had added more track, and so there was a need for more, not less, time for maintenance.
Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, unlike some of his predecessors, has been unwilling to paper over problems to appease the politicians. He has said he shares the goal of providing more service but not at the expense of safety; if the system were forced to return to the old hours, that would mean single-tracking during the day — with all its disruptions — to do the required inspections and work. Let’s hope this time the judgment of the professionals who run Metro is not ignored.