Metro board members who represent the District will move this week to restore late-night service beginning in July, bringing back 3 a.m. closings for the first time in three years.
Metro board Chairman Jack Evans and board member Corbett A. Price said Tuesday they will use their jurisdictional veto Thursday to block a proposal from the transit agency seeking reauthorization of the early closings that were instituted to give track workers more time to perform preventive maintenance.
Evans said it is time for late-night service to resume, adding that the agency has had ample time to implement its track maintenance program. He said he and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) are seeking a restoration of Metro’s previous hours — both to win back riders and to provide a travel option for late-night service and restaurant workers who in many cases have no other option but public transit.
“That’s who we’re taking care of — our late-night employees,” Evans said.
He said alternatives such as Uber and Lyft are simply “too expensive."
Metro argues the additional time has allowed it to institute its first-ever preventive maintenance program, a construction and rebuilding effort the agency credits with reducing track incidents and emergency repairs, and substantially increasing on-time performance. The agency is also running fewer trains, however.
Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said the preventive maintenance program “prevents SafeTrack 2.0,” whereby the agency would need to embark on emergency rebuilding to address deferred maintenance because of running too much service.
“We’re coming in this week and saying the thing has worked in the direction we had all hoped,” he said in an interview. “We’re not there yet, and we feel it needs to continue. If we go back to the 3 a.m. time … we then do not do maintenance work over the weekend, because it takes so long to ramp up and ramp down, to set up and set down, that those windows disappear, which is where we were.”
Bowser said she backs the return to late-night service, citing what she sees as Metro’s critical contribution to the District’s late-night economy.
“Big cities support the needs of all their residents and workers,” she said in a brief interview. “Our city stays up past 11 o’clock.”
The measure up for consideration Thursday is tied to a preventive maintenance update being presented to the board’s safety and operations committee. Without the reauthorization, Metro’s hours are set to automatically revert to the system’s old schedule beginning July 1: 5 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday; 5 a.m. to 3 a.m. Fridays; 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturdays; and 7 a.m. to midnight Sundays. Metro is pushing to maintain 11:30 p.m. weeknight and 1 a.m. weekend closings, along with Sunday hours of 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
But Evans said the authorization was for two years — with a review after the first — and should be allowed to expire.
“I spoke with the mayor and she very, very much wants to go back to the late-night hours,” Evans said Tuesday. “So the administration feels that way — I feel that way and so that’s how we arrived at the decision.”
Metro’s initial decision to curtail late-night hours drew the ire of riders and advocates who said service was too limited for a metropolitan area like Washington and would hamper late-night and service workers who lack other options. The District reluctantly agreed to go along with the proposal after Metro made the argument that its workers needed additional track time.
Wiedefeld said late-night service prevented Metro from performing effective track work on Friday and Saturday nights, the time when much of the agency’s recent reconstruction efforts have been focused. Suggestions floated by the board included an emphasis on ride-hailing to provide late-night service where Metro could not effectively shuttle passengers.
“We weren’t doing any proactive work on weekends,” Wiedefeld said. “That’s the whole idea, is to get out of this reactionary mode to dealing with issues and move to a proactive mode, get ahead of this. Now, over time, yes, we all want to move back to more time, more service, more hours. But we want to do it when … most importantly, we’re comfortable that the safety needs are being met.”
Price said it’s now time for management to use its existing maintenance hours more efficiently.
“I think we need to increase our productivity with the number of hours that we are given for maintenance and track repair,” he said.
“We have a number of workers who have to get home at night and so forth,” Price said. “It’s a matter of accommodating and making our workers safe and making sure they have a reliable transportation system to get them home at night.
“And, look, we are a very large metropolitan area too,” he added. “We can’t keep shutting down the mode of transportation in the evening.”
Under the board’s jurisdictional veto, two board members from either the District, Maryland or Virginia can unite to block a proposal up for board consideration. The measure subject to the veto must have buy-in from at least one board member from each of those jurisdictions, along with being passed by the majority.
Robert McCartney and Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.