If Metrorail reverts to staying open beyond midnight on the weekends, it could cost $45 million to maintain service, officials for the transit agency said.
In addition, such changes might increase night ridership by 600,000 trips, but reduce overall trips by at least 2.5 million a year. If the system goes back to its fiscal 2016 closing times of 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and midnight on Sundays, trips could decrease by 11 million annually and negate the transit agency’s “Rush Hour Promise” for customers with a SmarTrip to receive future credit who experience rush-hour delays of 10 minutes or more.
“The time that maintenance work is conducted when the Metrorail system is closed and trains are not running … is critical to the delivery of safe and reliable rail service,” according to a presentation discussed Thursday, Jan. 24 by the board of director’s Safety and Operations Committee.
Metro officials outlined three options for service hours at rail stations:
• Fiscal year 2016: closing at midnight Sunday through Thursday and close at 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday;
• 5:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 5:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to midnight Sunday; and
• Current hours of 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and opening times of 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, but close at 2 a.m., and 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday.
The final option, also known as “Alternative C,” would keep the current hours that close stations at 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.
“If we’re looking to costs or to the impact of track work, particularly staying under the 3 percent cap, then alternative C best meets those two metrics,” said Laura Mason, acting general manager for rail services.
The 3 percent cap means subsidies cannot exceed that percentage based on an agreement Metro would receive dedicated funding of $500 million annually from Maryland, the District and Virginia.
Meanwhile, the Federal Transit Administration issued a letter Jan. 18 that warns any changes in service hours could affect future federal money for Metro. It could also push back the federal agency’s approval to certify the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission.
“As the board and the region discusses this issue, we have to keep in mind this is a very big player in our world today and obviously will be in the future,” said Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.
The board must make a decision on the service hours because of its potential impact on the fiscal year 2020 budget.
Several board members expressed concern about decreasing maintenance work in favor of keeping the stations open longer.
According to Metro’s proposal, the stations would open by nearly eight hours longer going back to closing at 3 a.m., but track work would decrease by 44 percent.
Board member Paul Smedberg, who represents Alexandria, Virginia, suggested revisiting the issue in another year or two.
“Getting the station in good repair is paramount and extending the hours at this point and time would harm that,” Smedberg said.
Metro board chairman and D.C. Councilman Jack Evans, a proponent of the 3 a.m. closing times, said he would like for his District colleagues to review the proposal.
“I can make the argument on both sides,” he said. “The District of Columbia is the most affected in many ways by having late hours. These are tough times. We’re in a tough position.”