- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 1, 2016

Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans vowed Thursday that the District’s representatives will veto a plan to keep late-night subway service cuts in place for two years after the transit agency’s SafeTrack repairs end next year.

“We believe we’ve compromised enormously. The board can do what it wants to do. I’ve made my decision clear on behalf of the District of Columbia,” Mr. Evans said at a board committee meeting Thursday. “We will exercise jurisdictional veto.”

A rarely used option in Metro’s 40-year history, a veto would force Metro to resume subway closings at midnight on weekdays and at 3 a.m. on weekends when the SafeTrack maintenance effort ends June 30.

The Metro committee on Thursday approved a plan to extend the current closing times — 11:30 p.m. on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends — until June 2019. In addition, the earliest trains on Sundays would start at 8 a.m.

Metro officials say they need the extra time that the reduced service hours would provide in order to conduct long-neglected repairs and maintenance throughout the subway system.

The full Metro Board is to vote on the measure at its regular meeting in two weeks.

During nearly two hours of debate Thursday, the District’s representatives said the late-night service cuts disproportionately harm low-income and minority riders as well as the city’s bar, restaurant and hotel economy.

Representatives of other jurisdictions argued that the reduced service hours are necessary to improve subway operations.

“We’ve heard from management that they need more time because of decisions in the past where maintenance was deferred. “The longer we put it off, the bigger the problem gets,” said Metro Board member Robert Lauby, chief safety officer for the Federal Railroad Administration. “I think we need to bite the bullet here and make a decision.”

Each jurisdiction Metro serves — the District, Maryland, Virginia and the federal government — has two representatives on the board. A jurisdictional veto occurs when both representatives from a single jurisdiction vote against a proposal.

Mr. Evans, a D.C. Council member, and financial consultant Corbett Price represent the District on the board. They already had voiced opposition to extending reductions in late-night service.

Mr. Evans this week helped broker a compromise that would have maintained late-night service cuts for just one year and then required officials to assess whether a second year of cuts would be needed.

Many thought the committee would accept the compromise, but the panel voted Thursday to keep the service cuts for the full two years. The only change was the addition of a sunset clause to end the service reduction immediately after two years. Without the clause, the board would have had to vote in two years to end the cuts.

That leaves the District with only one option for recourse: jurisdictional veto.

Metro Board bylaws say that, whenever possible, representatives should provide advance notice to the chairman whenever they plan to use the jurisdictional veto. The guidance is meant to mediate any issue before a vote, effectively avoiding a veto.

Questions arose Thursday about the legality of service cuts under the federal Civil Rights Act.

Metro officials said the Federal Transit Administration told them the service cuts comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act because of the overwhelming number of survey respondents who supported the plan over three other options.

But the equity analysis, a report that offers how certain riders would be affected by the cuts, showed that the proposal would affect minorities much more than other groups.

Malcolm Augustine, who represents Prince George’s County on the Metro Board, said it “is very clear from this that portions of the [proposal] does not meet the standard. We would be creating some jeopardy for ourselves if we move forward with these hours in the way that they are presented.”

Tom Bulger, an alternate D.C. representative on the committee, also questioned whether the plan would meet Title VI requirements.

“I think we’re really on thin ice. I want to know how bulletproof we’re going to be when we get sued,” Mr. Bulger said.

Before approving the service cuts plan, the committee voted for the equity analysis. Of the four committee members, only Mr. Bulger voted against approval.

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