On Thursday, WMATA held a nine and a half-hour public hearing about its proposals to cut late-night Metro service. Lots of people turned out to say they depend on Metro, while others stressed an array of options to consider before moving forward with late-night cuts.

Metro staff is proposing that cuts to late-night rail service, which are currently in effect as part of SafeTrack, become permanent so that there’s more time for much-needed system maintenence.

While it still hasn’t made a clear argument as to why these cuts are necessary, at least not publicly, Metro staff has moved forward by presenting the WMATA Board of Directors with four different options for shorter hours. The WMATA compact stipulates that before the board can make any of them official, it has to hold public hearings like yesterday’s.

WMATA staff has asked the Board to make one of these sets of hours of operation official. There are Image from WMATA.

A quick rundown of how these hearings work: anyone who wants to testify signs up to do so, and when it’s their turn, they get to address the board directly for three minutes (elected officials get five). Yesterday, board members mostly listened, withholding comment except to thank whoever had spoken once they finished.

Regarding testimony to the Board, Justin Lini, who recently explained why closing Metro stations in Wards 7 and 8 would (that’s a separate-but-related matter), said that most of the people who showed up to speak were regular riders from DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

"There were also a number of ANC reps from Wards 2, 4, and 7,” he said, “as well as DC Councilmembers and a councilmember from Capitol Heights, MD. There were some disability activists there as well, and and African American activists. The local service union had a large contingent too.”

Nicole Cacozza, another GGWash contributor, added that when she got to WMATA’s headquarters, a group with signs was outside to protest the cuts.

Photo by Nicole Cacozza.

According to Justin and Nicole, nobody who showed up at the hearings was there to support cutting service. People cited all kinds of arguments for why Metro needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with better options, from saying it would damage to the city’s reputation and economic growth and that it would do disproportionate harm to low-income communities to asking why Metro couldn’t do a better job with the maintenence time it already has.

Nicole said a lot of people spoke about how much they rely on Metro, and how not having service late at night would be devastating:

One man came to testify on behalf of his former coworkers in the service industry who worked long shifts and needed Metro to get home.

A woman from WMATA’s accessibility committee spoke about just not being able to travel on weekends if Metro cut its morning service, because she cannot get around without public transportation.

One woman who immigrated to Maryland as a child said that she used Metro to travel to Virginia after school in order to spend time with other people from her home country, and she currently knows people who use it to attend GED classes after work.

One person brought up that there have already been reports of workers sleeping in their offices because they could not get home.

Similar stories stood out to Justin:

Some spoke about how cuts will make it harder for them to get to work. Others talked about not being able to go out in DC anymore. One person got very emotional over the Nats game last week and talked about how she didn’t make it home until 4 am due to lack of metrorail service.

We also had some people who were concerned about increasing drunk driving, and the environmental impact of putting more cars on our roads.

Personal accounts like these illustrate why Metro has to find a way forward that doesn’t include cutting late-night service, and it’s important that Board members hear them. But there was also plenty of comment regarding the technical and logistical problems Metro is up against, and how to fix them.

Justin said that DC Councilmenber Elissa Silverman pushed WMATA to develop better metrics to measure its performance, and also for the agency to do more to put out information on particular incidents or plans, like it did last year when there was a fire at Stadium-Armory that curbed service for 13 weeks.

A number of comments also suggested looking to other systems for examples of how to do massive repairs while not making such drastic service cuts. “References were made to the PATH system in New Jersey, in that its a two track system which runs 24 hours,” Justin said. “Another model raised was SEPTA night owl service, which runs busses overnight parallel to rail routes.”

People also said WMATA should consider doing maintenence SafeTrack-style, closing segments of lines for longer periods of time (or even entire lines if absolutely necessary) but not the entire system. Patrick Kennedy, a GGWash contributor and ANC commissioner, said this in his testimony:

Rather than taking a meat cleaver to the hours of the system across 110 miles of track, I’d encourage the Board to consider a more surgical policy of prioritizing limited service reductions — single-tracks, early shutdowns, etc. — in discrete locations where maintenance tasks are to be performed. This would require additional effort for planning purposes in order to inform customers and manage impacts on revenue service, but it would carry a significant dividend for riders over a complete service reduction as proposed.

Another common refrain: if Metro does go forward with permanent late-night rail closures, it’s got to provide the bus service needed to bridge the gap— and right now, the proposal on the table doesn’t come close.