Leaders of the D.C. Metro system are moving closer to accepting cuts to late night service in order to free up time for preventative repairs.
Metro officials outlined how the system got to such a critical point of deterioration during a heated meeting with members of the Board of Directors Thursday. Board members remained skeptical of cuts to late night service early in the meeting and grilled officials from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) on why hours need to be severely rolled back.
Members of the board asked why more repairs cannot be conducted during single tracking, or why more maintenance crews cannot be dispatched, reports The Washington Post.
Metro officials maintained the necessity of continued preventative maintenance after SafeTrack repairs end and said it all comes down to time. The problems began in 1999 when Metro leaders first approved late night service and in 2007 when it was extended to 3 a.m. for Friday and Saturday nights.
Managers began to stop conducting preventative maintenance due to the extension of the hours and instead focused on portions of the system that were close to falling apart. Workers also stopped checking for stray electrical currents on the tracks, sparking more tunnel fires.
“You just startled me by saying that we used to do X, Y with power and we used to do something else, we don’t do it anymore,” said Board member Tom Bulger, according to The Washington Post. “How does that happen? That we used to do stuff that was necessary and now we don’t and the board…just finds out about it this morning?”
Other members of the board were similarly startled by the admission that critical maintenance tasks were ended after late night hours were extended. Since SafeTrack repairs began, the system has been closing at midnight.
“When you say you want longer hours and you got longer hours, you also got less maintenance,” said Board member Catherine Hudgins, according to The Washington Post. “That is the answer to the question.”
Hudgins argued that before the board excoriates Metro officials for the system’s ills, they should remember that the board approved the late night service extensions.
Declining ridership and unreliability due to SafeTrack is pushing the D.C. Metro further into a financial hole, prompting a controversial budget proposal from General Manager Paul Wiedefeld that slashes 1,000 jobs and hikes fares. Metro is strapped for cash and many localities appear reluctant to allocate additional funds to the transit system. The current budget shortfall at Metro is $275 million.
Council members in D.C. said Thursday they are willing to double their funding of Metro if Maryland and Virginia follow suit.
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