A D.C.-proposed compromise to restore some late-night Metro service appears to be off the table, due to opposition from Maryland.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) issued a letter this week to Metro board member Michael Goldman, who represents the state, urging him to vote against the compromise at Thursday’s board meeting. Under a proposal being pushed by D.C. officials, the system would open at 5:30 a.m. weekdays and close at midnight, compared with its current schedule of 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. The system would close at 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
“I urge you to oppose [the alternative] as written for its negative impacts on Montgomery County and insist that stations in Montgomery County continue to open at 5 a.m.,” Elrich wrote.
Elrich cited the adverse impact on bus riders, who would face up to a one-mile walk to travel between bus bays at Shady Grove station if it were not to open as a through-way at 5 a.m. and estimated ridership losses to the county’s bus system, Ride On.
“While I take no position on the issue of Metro’s start time within the District, Montgomery County residents who rely on Ride On and Metrorail for their daily commute must have continued access to trains that leave the terminal stations at Shady Grove and Glenmont at 5 a.m.,” Elrich wrote, pointing to data obtained from Metro. “I won’t belabor the disadvantages it highlights, except to note that Montgomery County would stand to lose $130,000 in annual revenue with the associated Ride On ridership losses.”
Metro says 75 percent of its system entries in its first half-hour take place in Virginia and Maryland, while the same proportion of exits take place in D.C. The figures indicate that Metro travel from 5 to 5:30 a.m. primarily shuttles commuters from the region’s suburbs to the District’s job centers, meaning Maryland and Virginia would be hit harder under such a plan.
The region’s U.S. senators wrote to Metro on Tuesday, urging the agency to maintain its shorter hours for the safety of the system and its riders.
“We agree with [General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld] and safety oversight officials that safety must take precedence over convenience,” said the letter from Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner of Virginia and Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. “Without these consecutive hours, the system will make up the shortfall by doing more daytime single-tracking, which creates even greater challenges, and the work will ultimately take longer.”
Restoring Metro’s late-night closings could put federal funding at risk, the senators warned.
Goldman said in an email that he intends to oppose the compromise, which has also faced resistance from Virginia. This week, board member Corbett Price, who represents the District, said there was no compromise “at this time,” following a Washington Post story citing Maryland and Virginia officials that the District had floated 5:30 a.m. openings as a possible solution.
“Current hours are scheduled to sunset per our agreement two years ago,” Price said in a tweet. “District residents have sacrificed enough.”
The District has been unwavering in its position that Metro should restore the midnight weekday and 3 a.m. weekend closings that were eliminated when Metro instituted its SafeTrack rebuilding program in 2016. When the new hours were officially instituted in 2017, the board set them to expire in 2019 unless further action was taken.
Wiedefeld has argued that the shorter operating hours allow for additional “wrench time” for crews to perform the preventive maintenance needed to maintain a safe and reliable system. The system’s leaders say prioritizing service over safety led to the agency’s 2015 safety crisis and that it should not slip into old habits. The Federal Transit Administration has warned the region that it will potentially withhold up to $1.6 billion in transit funding, including money for Maryland’s light-rail Purple Line, if the old hours are restored.
At a news conference for the D.C. streetcar Tuesday, Bowser’s position appeared to soften — albeit slightly. The mayor would not say directly whether she will ask Metro board members representing the city to exercise a veto of the shorter hours, but said that barring a restoration of late-night service, Metro must make clear when the early closing will end. She said city officials have asked Metro to examine alternatives to its current schedule.
“If Metro cannot commit to restoring full service on July 1, then we need a firm date for when they think those hours could be restored,” Bowser said.
Bowser expressed frustration with Metro for continuing to require early closures after three years of sustained disruptions, first with SafeTrack and later with a preventive maintenance program — which the transit agency says requires five years to run its initial course.
“I find it very curious that there has been very little discussion, debate, questioning, probing about why Metro hasn’t been more efficient with the time and resources that it has,” Bowser said. “We have to demand that. We can’t have a system that has demanded more money and has gotten more money and has refused to work more efficiently.”
She said Metro’s 11:30 p.m. closings make it an “outlier” among major cities, “and that is not acceptable.”
Though the news conference was scheduled to celebrate the streetcar’s third year of operations — it is not a Metro service — the mayor’s event was headlined “Advocating for #KeepMetroOpen at the Third Anniversary of the DC Streetcar.”