Residents shredded proposals from the D.C. Metro to permanently cut service hours during a public hearing Thursday at the transit agency’s headquarters.
Officials with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) listened to testimony from frustrated residents throughout the day who said they can no longer rely on Metro service. The marathon hearing began at 12:30 p.m. and lasted until 10 p.m. Metro officials are proposing major service cuts in order to give work crews more time for critical system maintenance, much to the anger of residents and city leaders, reports WJLA.
“We need a public transit system that stays open for as long as the region stays open,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement Thursday. “Ending late-night hours indefinitely is a non-starter.”
Officials are adamant service cuts are needed to restore the system despite the swift public backlash to the proposals. General Manager Paul Wiedefeld says work crews need eight additional hours each day after SafeTrack ends to maintain the repairs.
Two of the proposals would push closing back to 11:30 p.m. on weekdays. Another proposal delays opening the Metro on Sunday until 12 p.m., instead of the usual 7 a.m. start time.
“On Sunday morning if they open at 12 p.m. I won’t be able to get to my religious classes,” Beryl Neurman, a rider who testified Thursday, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “They usually correspond these things with Sunday school. There’s classes at the synagogue I go to that start at 10 or 10:30 in the morning, and if I can’t get to Cleveland Park, where it is, until noon, then I can’t go to these.”
She is also concerned over the proposals that close the system down at or before midnight. Neurman has a disability and relies on a wheelchair for transport.
“I never want to be on the last train of the night in case an elevator isn’t working or an employee isn’t there,” Neurman told TheDCNF. “Closing at midnight, if a show gets out at 11 o’clock I might have a problem getting home.”
Neurman said she understand the need for track safety and supports the proposal that ends service at 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, 11 p.m. on Sunday, and at 11:30 p.m. all other nights. With this proposal, the system would also open at 8 a.m. on Sunday, an hour later than usual. Wiedefeld is strongly in favor of this plan, which he argues strikes a balances between the needs of the region and the reality of ongoing maintenance.
This proposal is not satisfactory for many small business owners and employees who depend on the service for transport and customers. Many restaurants in the D.C. metropolitan area have experienced a 20 percent drop in sales since SafeTrack began, according to the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.
The biggest effect is on the employees who cannot afford peak Uber or taxi prices to get home after a 2 a.m. closing.
Members of the D.C. Council appeared at the hearing around 6 p.m. to testify against cutting late night hours due to fears over the economic impact. The Council unanimously passed a resolution last week urging Metro officials to restore late night service when SafeTrack is completed.
Residents from Ward 7 and 8 also took issue with a recent suggestion from Metro officials to close 20 stations across the transit system during off-peak hours to deal with a widening budget shortfall. The majority of the 20 stations are in Ward 7 and 8 or in Prince George’s County, prompting accusations that Metro is targeting predominantly black communities, reports WUSA9.
“The areas they picked for less service are where people of color live,” Crystal Mathews, a resident from Ward 8, told TheDCNF. ” If you’re going to change things why not give us service just like you given any other area service.”
Metro officials denied these accusations Thursday and noted the idea to close stations was a suggestion, not a firm proposal.
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