Board members also are considering extending Metrorail service hours from 11 p.m. to midnight and decreasing wait times to 12 minutes or less, including on 20 bus lines. The proposals are intended to address a decline in ridership, even as pandemic restrictions ease, and the economic effects on lower-income workers who rely on transit.
Longer term, board members Wednesday seemed divided on how best to serve the region as in-person teaching slowly resumes and many office workers telework until at least the fall.
The meeting was meant to help Metro’s transportation planners craft fare and service strategies. The board is expected to vote June 10 on many of the ideas.
Board member Devin Rouse, who represents the federal government, said the transit agency needs to think beyond bringing back former customers.
“It’s not necessarily about winning back previous riders, although that’s important. We want those riders back,” he said. “But we shouldn’t lose sight of any potential rider, and sometimes we become so focused on ways we used to do things that historically drove people to get on Metro that we lose sight of just thinking about things in a new way and being innovative.”
Staff members had offered suggestions on directions Metro could take, ranging from making all bus rides $1 to creating a zoned fare structure.
The ideas incorporated lessons the transit agency learned during the pandemic: Low-income riders and service workers whom governments considered “essential” over the past 14 months rely on public transit and want faster, less expensive service at all hours of the day.
“The design of this is to focus the frequency improvements where the riders are and where we have indicators where there was demand for higher-frequency service in those areas, pre-pandemic and now coming out of the pandemic,” said Tom Webster, Metro’s vice president for strategy, planning and program management.
Metro also is learning that telecommuting could be an indefinite arrangement for many downtown office workers, lowering transit demand during traditional rush-hour commuting times and allowing Metro to shift service to standard wait times.
While a recent Metro customer survey found riders value service, speed and reliability over fare prices, board member Michael Goldman, who represents Maryland, said reducing fares will be the best way to get riders back. Federal workers aren’t as concerned with prices as retail workers and others, Goldman said, because the government subsidizes their transportation costs.
But they could become a smaller portion of Metro’s customer base. Many federal agencies are leaning toward approving liberal telework policies, while service workers will need to get to work on their own dime, he said.
Board member Lucinda Babers, D.C.’s deputy mayor for operations and infrastructure, urged Metro to prioritize extending bus routes and restoring those canceled or suspended during the pandemic. Board member and Loudoun County Supervisor Matt Letourneau said Virginians also want more routes.
“We have heard from several of our Virginia jurisdictions that they have been eagerly awaiting for several routes to be brought back that have not been and are not being proposed to be in this plan,” he said.
Finance Committee Chairman Steve McMillin supported waiving transfer fees and said Metro needs to make Metrorail and Metrobus a more integrated system.
Also Wednesday, the regulatory agency that oversees Metrorail safety took the rare step of issuing an order requiring Metro to turn over information.
The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission had asked Metro to give safety inspectors access to closed-circuit television or surveillance video footage for “at least several months,” but Metro has declined, commission spokesman Max Smith said.
The commission, which Congress created in 2017, has purview over all safety aspects of Metrorail, including the system’s data and information, Smith said, adding: “It’s very clear in the law.”
After the commission’s May 18 board meeting, where the standoff became public, Metro spokesman Ian Jannetta told The Post that Metro provides “all materials requested” to the commission, including CCTV footage.
But he said Metro does restrict the release of raw footage, adding that Metro’s safety department “will continue to preserve footage relevant to investigations and coordinate with the [commission] on such preservation.”
In the order signed by commission chief executive David Meyer, the organization said it has the authority to inspect, investigate and test Metro workers, equipment and operations, “including, without limitation, electronic information and databases through reasonable means.”
The order gives Metro until June 10 to provide the commission “with continuous, real-time access to view the live stream from all CCTV cameras” except from devices that are part of federal security programs approved by the Transportation or Homeland Security departments.
Metro uses closed-circuit television for several safety purposes, such as monitoring platform conditions.