On Tuesday morning at a D.C. Council breakfast meeting with Mayor Muriel Bowser, Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld urged the District to allow the transit agency additional time to continue repairs of the trouble-plagued system by not exercising a planned jurisdictional veto that would restore late-night service hours.
Shortly after coming on board in late 2015, Wiedefeld convinced the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority multi-jurisdictional board to eliminate late-night service in June 2016. Although intended to be temporary, the transit system has now extended the discontinuation of nighttime rail service hours for a total of three years.
The worn-thin patience of D.C. elected officials with truncated service affecting the city’s nighttime economy appears to have come to an end in recent weeks. D.C. Council member Jack Evans, who serves as WMATA board chair, had previously indicated that the District would use its veto to force the rail system to at least partially restore late-night service.
In response, Wiedefeld recently prepared four options on service hours for the board to decide in coming weeks and to take effect beginning mid-year. One would fully restore service to 2016 hours, an action Wiedefeld has increasingly made clear he thinks is not functionally possible, another would merely continue the current service hours, while two others would partially restore late-night service to varying degrees but with one significantly delaying service initiation in the mornings throughout the week.
To their credit, both Mayor Bowser and D.C. Council members reacted negatively to Wiedefeld’s proposed alternatives.
The rail system has already been largely abandoned as a viable transportation mode for nightlife consumers. Uber and Lyft ride-hailing car services have essentially replaced late-night public transit.
The drop in Metro ridership both in the evenings and on weekends has been dramatic, and most evident among area residents 35 years of age and younger who have now essentially discarded the system. Consumers of the city’s nighttime amenities and entertainment options no longer even consider Metro when making plans for an evening out or weekend about in the District.
Wiedefeld and Metro have ironically been attempting to negotiate a program of special service and rates by Uber and Lyft to replace late-night rail system operation. The transit manager appears willing to do almost anything possible to avoid ever restoring nighttime Metro service, further reducing the system to merely a method for regional workers to get to-and-from their daytime jobs.
Transit advocates have begun sounding the alarm that consumer reliance on automobile services or private vehicles is both worsening area road congestion and scrapping use of public transit during broad periods of the week. Metrorail ridership has continued to plummet, further straining the system’s financial viability.
Most hurt by the elimination of late-night service have been the area residents working late-shift lower-wage jobs. Unable to afford car service fees for transportation home, in many cases outside the metropolitan area center due to the local cost of living close to the urban core, the hourly wage workers cleaning offices and staffing late-night businesses are hardest hit.
The local Metrorail system, despite an original promise to eventually offer 24-hour service, was primarily focused as a transportation mode for classic office-hour traditional workers in downtown buildings and at federal agencies. It was shuttling federal government workers from the suburbs to their D.C. offices that justified the huge financial contribution by the federal government to the cost of building the system.
Even a full restoration of the service hours discontinued three years ago would not fully address the evolving needs of the region’s dynamic economy and lifestyle hours. It would, however, be a start to restoring the relevance and utility of a diminished transit system increasingly irrelevant to growing numbers of residents.
It’s a disappointing reality that Metro management is no longer committed to striving to provide modern-era service that corresponds to the needs of all residents and workers and a world-class business economy with broadened transit requirements.