Metro would subsidize an Uber, Lyft or other on-demand trip for late-night workers under a plan the agency is proposing to the ride-hail services.
The subsidized trips — up to $3 per ride — are meant to make up for the loss of late-night service but would be available only to workers, not people out enjoying entertainment or events.
Metro, which has been criticized by riders and D.C. officials for wanting to extend its moratorium on late-night service another year and use the extra time to catch up on maintenance, is expected to issue a request for proposals soon that will outline its goals for the estimated $1 million program.
Metro would subsidize the fare for an Uber, Lyft or other on-demand trip within the transit agency’s service area provided it took place between midnight and 4 a.m. and the passenger was traveling home or to work. The transit agency would pay for up to 10 subsidized trips per person, per week.
The program, Metro says, would target late-night workers in fields such as hospitality and health care. The ride-hailing companies would bill Metro for the subsidized costs, and data would be used to validate the riders’ purpose of travel.
Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said the request for proposals “is currently being drafted” and expected to be issued next month, though its release could be more imminent.
More information on the program was captured in a slide prepared as part of a presentation for local officials and obtained by The Washington Post. The program, however, is still in the planning stages, and details have not been finalized.
The deal would be an unusual one for Metro because Uber and Lyft are widely believed to be siphoning customers from the struggling transit system with their investor-subsidized fares — pooled rides can cost as little as $3 in the District. Such an arrangement would be viewed by many as Metro ceding a portion of its traditional service — and its customers — to its competitors.
The Metro board’s safety committee is set to take a preliminary vote Thursday on keeping its early closing hours for another year, and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has voiced displeasure at the possibility, saying Metro needs to “roll up [its] sleeves and meet deadlines,” arguing for a return to 3 a.m. closings.
“DC needs a Metro system that meets the needs of our residents, our workers and our businesses,” Bowser tweeted.
Metro contends it needs at least another year of the early closings that began with its year-long SafeTrack maintenance program and were extended two years. Agency leaders say the additional time is critical for a preventive maintenance program, which has an estimated five-year timetable, according to board documents.
Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans, who is also a D.C. Council member, said he will oppose the extension in Thursday’s committee vote, though he is expected to be the lone no vote. Board members representing Maryland, Virginia and the federal government have all expressed support for extending the moratorium.
“I think the District’s position is very clear: We want the late-night service back,” said Evans (D), whose Ward 2 council district has more of the city’s hotels and restaurants than any other. “So there’s no need to do Uber and Lyft and all that stuff. . . . Even if it’s paid for by Metro, people want to leave their job, get on the subway and get home. And so it’s really a matter of that, or not that.”
The debate is a rare instance of discord between Metro’s board chairman and its chief executive. General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld told the Post in October that while Metro riders take more than 600,000 daily trips, they are largely concentrated during rush hours, so the agency could take the loss of allowing ride-hailing companies to step in on late-night service.
“We can move thousands and thousands of people in a very short period of time through very congested roadways — that’s what we can do,” Wiedefeld said then. “But maybe Uber, Lyft is a better solution for late-night service.”
Metro has proposed several alternate scenarios aimed at fulfilling the District’s request for more service, while allowing added “track time” to catch up on maintenance.
The scenarios, which have not risen to the level of formal proposals are:
● Reverting to 2016 hours: Monday-Thursday: 5 a.m.-midnight; Friday: 5 a.m.-3 a.m.; Saturday: 7 a.m.-3 a.m.; Sunday: 7 a.m.-midnight.
● Scenario A: Monday-Thursday: 5:30 a.m.-midnight; Friday: 5:30 a.m.-3 a.m.; Saturday: 9 a.m.-3 a.m.; Sunday: 10:30 a.m.-midnight
● Scenario B: Monday-Thursday: 5 a.m.-11:30 p.m.; Friday: 5 a.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday: 7 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday: 7 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
● Maintaining current hours: Monday-Thursday: 5 a.m.-11:30 p.m.; Friday: 5 a.m.-1 a.m.; Saturday: 7 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sunday: 8 a.m.-11 p.m.
Wiedefeld explained his reasoning for the options at a recent mayor-council breakfast.
“We have gotten more productive in the work that we’ve done, we have gotten ahead of a lot of these issues, but we’re just not there yet,” he said. “I’m also obviously very sensitive to the desires of the city to get more hours.”
Metro has estimated a return to 2016 operating hours would result in a 5 percent drop-off in on-time performance — a signal that the agency doesn’t believe it can handle that level of service.
Meanwhile, the Federal Transit Administration and incoming Metrorail Safety Commission have both warned the agency against returning to late-night service before its maintenance backlog is taken care of or face consequences.