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Metro proposes to stop weekend rail service, close 19 stations and slash bus routes by half in upcoming budget

Metro proposes to stop weekend rail service, close 19 stations and slash bus routes by half in upcoming budget
© Greg Nash

Metro is suggesting it stop weekend rail service, close 19 of its stations and slash its bus routes by half, according to budget proposals released on Monday, as the transportation industry deals with financial struggles spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s proposed budget for next fiscal year, beginning July 1, aims to cut almost $500 million from its projected $1.945 billion operating expenses, The Washington Post reported

Wiedefeld told the Post that the desired reduction in expenses was so large it could only be reached by eliminating weekend rail service. 

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Metro recommends cutting 2,400 positions through attrition, buyouts and layoffs in addition to the 1,400 the agency is looking to remove this year. Metro employees may not receive raises in order for more jobs to be saved. 

“When I talk to my peers, we’re all facing these almost terrible decisions together,” Wiedefeld told the newspaper. “It’s like, how do we do this? It gets down, unfortunately, to very hard math that you just can’t get there from here without having significant impacts.”

In addition to rail service cuts on Saturday and Sunday, weekday rail wait times would be 30 minutes except at busier stations in the city. Rail service would also end two hours earlier at 9 p.m. About one-fifth of Metro’s stations would shut down. 

Metro's board plans to discuss the proposal on Friday before it sets up public hearings and accepts public comments until February. The board will vote on the budget in March, according to the Post.

The transit agency could potentially stop some of its cutbacks if Congress were to pass a stimulus plan including assistance for transportation agencies next year. But Wiedefeld said even with a stimulus bill, Metro would need time to increase any service. 

Wiedefeld’s 2022 fiscal year plan is not based on Metro’s worst-case scenario but instead projects a rise in ridership up to 20 percent of current levels.

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“I don’t believe this is the worst-case scenario,” Wiedefeld said. “The reality is, the worst-case scenario is we stay where we are in terms of ridership. So we are projecting ridership to increase.”

Last week, Metrobus saw between 16 percent and 55 percent less travel than before COVID-19, while weekday rail travel was down between 77 percent and 86 percent, according to the Post.

Transportation agencies across the country have taken a hit as unemployment and telework has increased, and people have been hesitant to use public transportation out of fear they might catch the virus. 

The travel and hospitality industries have also struggled amid the pandemic, which has led to less ridership of Metro services as the agency depends on tourism.