The debate over Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s late-night services intensified last week as riders overwhelmingly petitioned to bring back midnight to 3 a.m. services on weekends at an Oct. 20 public hearing in Washington, D.C.’s Metro headquarters.
WMATA cut back hours in June due to its yearlong SafeTrack initiative, which is fixing lingering maintenance issues that have plagued the Metro through 15 “safety surges” that shutter segments of the line for weeks at a time. As a result of increased maintenance hours, Metro trains open at 5 a.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. on weekends, closing at midnight every day.
However, pressure has mounted on WMATA to bring back late-night hours on weekends, with Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and the D.C. Council both voicing support for the restoration of the service. The reduced hours will remain in place at least until SafeTrack concludes in April, but the WMATA board of directors will determine by December whether to bring back late-night services or continue extra maintenance.
Among those who wish to see late-night service returned is D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who also serves as the chair of the WMATA board of directors. Evans drafted a resolution from the D.C. Council that passed unanimously this month calling for late-night services to be returned.
Evans’ Director of Communications Thomas Lipinsky said the councilmember wants to make it easier for workers and residents of nearby towns to go to and from D.C. at night.
“The Metro is a way to connect employment centers and where people live that would be seriously disconnected if Metro were closed at midnight indefinitely,” Lipinsky said. “That’s Councilmember Evans’ concern.”
WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld previously said the current schedule must be maintained and may reduce to even shorter hours in order to fix maintenance problems. In July, Wiedefeld proposed permanently reducing Metro hours to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and 10 p.m. on Sundays.
However, at the all-day hearing at Metro’s headquarters Oct. 20, multiple riders and officials made the case to restore late-night hours.
In particular, Lipinsky said that, for those who must commute to jobs at restaurants that are open late on weekends, having Metro cut its late-night hours causes significant concerns with transportation. Lipinsky also said Evans is concerned about how the local economy will continue to fare without late-night Metro transportation.
“There are concerns about safe passage for those individuals who are patronizing those dining establishments,” Lipinsky said. “But even more importantly for the councilmember is the folks who are working at those establishments.”
Kurt Erickson, president and C.E.O. of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, spoke at the hearing in support of restoring late-night hours. According to Erickson, keeping Metro open late would help alleviate instances of drunk driving.
“We don’t want to incentivize anybody to get behind a wheel of their own car if they’ve been drinking,” Erickson said in an interview with The Hoya. “It’s the same thing with Metro. As long as they stay open, they are hopefully incentivizing people to use Metro to get home rather than driving home in their own vehicle when they’ve been drinking.”
Wiedefeld stressed the need to keep hours at their current rate, citing multiple potential safety issues. In 2016, Metro has faced multiple such issues, including a track fire that prompted Metro officials to shut down the service for a day in March, a track explosion in May and a train car derailment in July. According to Wiedefeld, by closing Metro at midnight on weekends, there is increased time to maintain the tracks.
Lipinsky made it clear that Evans also supported additional maintenance hours, and conceded that the Metro is the least busy between midnight to 3 a.m. However, he maintained that the many benefits of late-night services need to be accounted for when deciding the time maintenance is done.
“Metro definitely needs additional maintenance. Nobody’s disputing that,” Lipinsky said. “Councilmember Evans agrees with the general manager that we need additional maintenance hours. And, the general manager’s proposal to reduce hours from 3 a.m. to midnight is based on where ridership is lowest.”