Friday, February 06, 2009

DC area Metro could save severe night service cuts -- if it tries hard enough

The Washington DC Area Metro may have to consider severe service cuts, including conceivably shutting down at 10 PM every night, according to a Metro section story Friday February 6 in the Washington Post, p B1. The story “Reduced Rail Hours Among Possible Cuts: Apprehension on Metro Proposal” is by Lena H. Suna and this is the link.

There will be board next meetings next week and a public comment opportunity, but cuts could happen this summer, to close an $173 million gap, about $80 million in service cuts.

But many observers believe that the threat is a political ploy to urge governments (even economic stimulus money) to be available, or to goad riders to agree to another fare increase before summer of 2010, breaking a promise in a previous agreement.

In terms of welfare of the area, the proposals make no sense. There is not enough parking in Washington DC, even on nights and weekends, even in paid lots (and there seem to be few 24 hour lots) and bars, restaurants and theaters would be hurt. For example, most people use Metro to get to Landmark E-Street theaters downtown, which feature leading independent movies and are often packed on weekend nights, even during economic recession. It’s true that cities in the South and Midwest, even those with some transit (like Atlanta) seem less dependent on Metro for business than does Washington. Baltimore (also having a subway and light rail) seems less dependent.

The WJLA (Channel 7) story is much blunter "With Budget Shortfall Looming, Metro Considers Service Cuts" link here.

The DC Examiner has a similar story by Kytja Weir, "Metro looks to close $154M budget gap, may stop bus routes, late-night rail" link here. The Examiner reports that the total deficit has been reduced to "only" $154 million.

And Jim Iovino of NBC-Washington writes in a story called "Metro Closing Doors?" Iovino writes "One behalf of WMATA riders everywhere, let's hope there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and that the light's on the front of a late-night train" and he also specifically warns that Metro service is essential to reduce driving while drinking.

New York City’s transit system is open 24 hours. Effectively any resident in any of the boroughs can get home by transit at any time, given enough stamina, where that is not true for residents of nearby New Jersey. That was an issue for me in the 1970s. I recall the political battles to keep the fare at 35 cents; it was traumatic when it went up to 50 cents on Sept. 1, 1975. It’s much more now. (But there have been some crippling strikes.)

We need healthy public transit. In Europe it’s never a question. To allow cuts to happen now would go back on Obama’s “yes we can”.

Even in DC it should run 24 hours. Why not have an innovation to let the same Smart Cards work on all transit systems (New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, LA, SF Bart, Chicago, Minneapolis Light Rail, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Dallas Light Rail) and have an IT system to pay the right city’s system?

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