The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bowser renews push for Metro to restore late-night hours

Push from the mayor and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson comes as transit agency prepares for budget season

Riders board trains at Braddock Road Metro station in Alexandria. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser is renewing her call for Metro to restore late-night service, expressing concern for nighttime service industry workers in a letter she sent to the transit agency late Wednesday.

“The time has come to return Metrorail hours to full service, and we challenge you and the Board to make restoring late-night rail service a top priority,” Bowser (D) said in the letter, which was co-signed by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, and addressed to Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld and board chairman Paul C. Smedberg.

Metro late-night service is off the table for another year, and there’s no guarantee it won’t be longer

Bowser’s letter was the latest push from the city to get Metro to revert to its previous schedule of midnight weekday and 3 a.m. weekend closings.

Metro first scaled back its late-night hours in June 2016, when it launched SafeTrack, a year-long maintenance blitz aimed at restoring the system to a “state of good repair.”

Despite pleas from politicians and business owners concerned about the economic impact and late-night workers who said the change made it difficult to get to work, the transit authority later approved two more years of service cuts. The Metro board voted in March to continue the shorter hours for another year.

Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said service hours would be discussed as part of the fiscal 2021 budget process.

“We are taking a hard look at this issue, and the General Manager will present a recommendation to the Board with his FY21 budget in November,” Stessel said. “The GM will propose extending rail service hours as late as possible without compromising Metro’s safety and reliability turnaround.”

Previously, Wiedefeld has defended the change, saying fewer operating hours gives Metro workers more track time to do preventive maintenance, quality control and inspections.

However, workers who rely on public transit to get around and businesses have complained about the lack of service past midnight and have urged Metro to return to the old schedule: 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.

The system now closes at 11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Sunday hours are 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Bowser, in her letter, notes the hours of other subway systems around the country to press her case, saying the “Metrorail system is closed on average 15 hours longer than systems in major cities such as Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia.

After weeks of contentious debate, Metro board votes to maintain existing hours

“As most successful transit systems in the world provide late night connections between communities and employment centers, our Metro is not providing late-night rail service for those who need it most,” the letter said.

Earlier this year, the Metro board passed a resolution to restore the original service hours on July 1, 2020. The timing of Bowser’s letter is a reminder of that pledge as the transit agency enters the early stages of planning for next year’s budget.

“As you formulate and present the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, we urge you to fully restore late night rail hours as promised,” Bowser and Mendelson write.

A new report commissioned by the American Public Transportation Association backs the concerns of city leaders, saying the lack of late-night transit options costs both workers and businesses that operate outside of the traditional 9-to-5 schedule.

The report found that the lack of transit options especially affects the 17 percent of the workforce in metropolitan areas such as Washington that work between the hours of 4 p.m. and 6 a.m.

When it comes to public transportation, late-shift workers often get left behind

Bowser and former Metro board chairman Jack Evans, who represented the District, have been outspoken critics of the service cuts from the beginning and have pressured Metro to restore the service or provide a firm date for when it would be possible to do so. But the transit agency was also under pressure from the Federal Transit Administration, which in January warned Metro it could face financial hardship if it yielded to pressure from the District to restore the longer service hours.

Meanwhile, the search to replace the District’s two voting members on the Metro board is advancing, city officials said.

The District lost both of its representatives on the Metro board in the aftermath of the Evans ethics scandal. Evans, who is a D.C. Council member, resigned, as did his ally on the board, Corbett Price.

Bowser has nominated Lucinda Babers, a deputy mayor overseeing transportation agencies, to replace Price on the board. Mendelson said Monday that he plans to choose a finalist to replace Evans in the “next several weeks.” He declined to comment on whether he supports Babers, who must be approved by the council.

Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.