CommunityHamil R. HarrisWilliam J. Ford

Displeasure Felt Toward Metro’s Service-Cuts Plan

Ken Wyatt walks about two blocks from his home in Hyattsville, Md., to the Prince George’s Plaza Metro station to use the Green Line traveling to work at the Library of Congress in southeast D.C.

During Wyatt’s future commute on the Green Line, Metro officials propose to close two Metrorail stations in the District on his route: Mt. Vernon Square and Archives.

He also rides the train on the weekends, which the transit agency suggests needs to shut down during that time in order to help close a projected $495 million deficit next fiscal year.

“Closing the Metro on the weekends will have a tremendous effect on all types of working-class people such as federal government, local government, retail worker [and] grocery clerks,” Wyatt said Saturday, Dec. 5. “You have to take into consideration that some people have part-time jobs which requires to work weekends. Having the Metro open on the weekends will be beneficial to all.”

The usually bustling New Carrollton Metro Station appeared almost empty Saturday morning with only one parked car and two people sitting at a bus stop.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected the nation’s third-largest transit agency that includes a plan to offer 45 percent of the pre-pandemic bus service.

Here’s a summary of the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget where public hearings could be held next month, the spending plan approved in March and then go into effect in July. Some of the plan includes:

– Closing 19 Metrorail stations.

– The remaining Metrorail stations open would have trains run every 30 minutes, close by 9 p.m. and offer no weekend service.

– No Yellow Line trains would run north of Mt. Vernon Square in Northwest.

– Metro would either modify or shut down about half of the bus routes.

There’s also a proposal to lay off up 2,400 workers by July. The agency already approved to amend this year’s fiscal budget last month to cut up to 1,400 positions, but the hope will be employees accept buyouts.

Metro’s Finance and Capital Committee met Friday, Dec. 4 with its first chance to respond to the drastic service cuts.

Stephanie Gidigbi, the board’s vice chair who represents D.C., said commuters need assurance they can return riding the bus and Metrorail.

“I think that is a real opportunity to really provide a new vision for the system, especially as we recognize that people have choices. It’s important for us to amplify and share that message that we’ve been working to build back better for the riders,” she said. “I’m not sure that this budget as it stands now that we’re rushing to put out for public comment speaks to that piece.”

Board member Michael Goldman agreed and said there’s two reasons to wait until next month to formally present the proposal for public comment versus when the board meets Thursday, Dec. 10: Congress could pass a federal stimulus package and a possible rollout of COVID-19 vaccines this month.

“I think they will have a big impact on this [Metro] budget,” he said. “Ridership and revenue should be recovering by July 2021 [and] with the vaccine more available.”

Metro General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld said the financial outlook appears bleak.

He stressed the need for more financial help from the federal government, especially with about 35 percent of those workers who utilized the transit system.

Because of the pandemic, some commuters have made “a personal decision” to not come back and use the system right now.

“That’s why we want to go out to the public. We want to hear more that so we can adjust…but we’ve got to find the dollars to do it,” Weidefeld said. “If we get the federal dollars, we can basically react from what we’re hearing from the public as the dollars are coming in. The messaging gets much stronger if you can provide the higher-level service and you need the dollars to do that.”

Other board members understood the agency’s plan, especially with limited financial assistance from the federal government and cash-strapped state and D.C. governments.

Lawmakers in the region expressed concerns about eliminating bus routes and closing 19 Metrorail stations.

The agency proposes to close two stations in the District’s Ward 2 section of the city, Federal Triangle and Smithsonian.

“Thousands of people travel to and from Ward 2 for work, school, tourism and entertainment, and many of them rely upon a vibrant metro service to help them make their social, cultural, and economic contributions to our city,” Ward 2Council member Brooke Pinto (D) said in an email Friday. “A fully functioning Metro rail and bus system is absolutely critical to the success, health and safety of our city and our region.”

Across the border in Prince George’s County, Md., Anita Gaston said public transportation remains a part of her life.

The 71-year-old resident of Glenarden traveled on two Metrorail trains and two buses to visit her mother in Fort Washington. Her mother recently died.

Two bus routes she uses – F14 (Sherriff Road-Capitol Heights) and W14 (Bock Road in Fort Washington) – are on the list to be cut from service.

“I used to take the Metro on weekends, and it is necessary for the stations to stay open,” she said. “There are still people that don’t have a vehicle, don’t know how to drive and this is their only mode of transportation.”

Staff writer James Wright contributed to this story.

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