About 30 workers from the Gaylord Resort at National Harbor attended last night’s Metro Riders’ Advisory Council meeting last night to talk about the huge burdens from Metro’s rerouting the NH1 bus to National Harbor.
In August, Metro changed the route to travel from Branch Avenue Metro along I-495 to the resort instead of its previous route from Southern Avenue. The Southern Avenue route served many neighborhoods in Prince George’s County and southeast DC, which include many of the workers at Gaylord, while the new route forces them to take multiple buses and rail trips, taking far more time and at much higher cost.
According to John Boardman, the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 25, which represents hotel and restaurant workers at Gaylord, the average commute time to work has risen from 55 minutes to 94 minutes, and employees now have to pay an average of $8.30 round-trip instead of $5.12 previously. That’s because, for residents of neighborhoods like those around Indian Head Highway, they must take other buses to Southern Avenue (where many bus lines meet), then ride the Green Line to Branch Avenue to get to Gaylord, explained Local 25’s Linda Martin.
Or they walk, as employee Louis Marshall does. Instead of boarding the bus on Audrey Lane in Oxon Hill, as he could before, he now has to walk an hour and 45 minutes along Indian Head Highway. If the weather doesn’t permit that, he has an equally long transit trip, taking the D14 to Southern Avenue, then the Green Line to Branch Avenue, and finally the NH1 to work. Francis Silo of Silver Spring has to spend about $200 a month for his combination bus and rail trip instead of $30 a month before. Stephanie Winfield often can’t afford the train, and must then take the W4 to the 34 to the C12 to the NH1. Not surprisingly, Gaylord offers no transit benefit to the workers.
Furthermore, the bus no longer runs early enough on weekends for many employees to get to work in time. Before the change, the first Saturday bus arrived at National Harbor at 6:21 am. Now, it’s 8:15 am, and many shifts begin at 8. On Sundays, 8:43 is the first arrival compared to 6:46 before the change.
Why the change? According to union organizer Jen Shykula, the hotel asked for the change. They’ve only given two reasons: it’s more convenient, and safer. Neither seems true, at least from the workers’ point of view. Skipping neighborhoods along the route isn’t more convenient, and more bus lines serve Southern Avenue. In addition, Shykula explained, the Branch Avenue station is much more desolate, as it’s a large park-and-ride instead of being surrounded by neighborhoods as at Southern Avenue.
Some people might feel safer at Branch Avenue than Southern Avenue — tourists. And while there’s no evidence of this, it certainly appears that Gaylord wanted to change the bus to accommodate its visitors, many of whom arrive at a convention billed as “in Washington DC” only to find it 12 miles from downtown without convenient transit. At the Hyattsville hearing on this year’s bus cuts, one speaker alleged that Gaylord’s motivation was essentially to let its visitors avoid riding the bus with black people, or as that speaker put it, “to ride the Metrobus with people who had ‘superior etiquette skills.’”
The change also likely saved some money, but how much of the savings came from the reroute as opposed to the schedule cut? Workers would probably have preferred a less frequent bus with the same hours and route instead of a much less usable bus. Plus, Maryland is putting resources into this bus. The NH1 mysteriously appeared at the top of the priority corridor plan, and when asked during a previous RAC presentation, WMATA bus planner Jim Hamre said that this happened at the behest of the State of Maryland.
Prince George’s County considers the National Harbor project an important economic development initiative for the County. The project’s design already turns its back on Oxon Hill, isolating it into an island unto itself instead of linking up with the surrounding neighborhoods. It’s not right for the revenue to also come at the expense of existing residents, forcing employees to spend more of their already-small salaries to get to work so that the state can save money and the resort can keep its visitors from interacting with other socioeconomic classes.