- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Metro Board committee voted Thursday to hold public hearings to discuss deep cuts to late-night service that would give maintenance crews more time to repair the subway system.

Metro offered four options that would provide an extra eight hours a week for track work and maintenance. Three of the options would crimp the transit choices of late-night and shift workers; the fourth would delay Sunday morning service until noon.

Public hearings will be held in October, and the new subway schedule will start July 1.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld made a case for cutting late-night service by saying the new subway schedule will increase track work by 20 percent per week and “reconcile unsustainable competition between safety and service.”

The extra time will allow for overnight track inspections, he said. Most inspections — done between the morning and evening rush hours — are frequently interrupted because inspectors must make way from oncoming trains. Mr. Wiedefeld said the uninterrupted night work will raise the quality of the inspections.

Normal service has run from 5 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 5 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday, and 7 a.m. to midnight Sunday.

During the ongoing “SafeTrack” maintenance operation, stations have closed at midnight every night of the week since June. That change in service hours was supposed to last only a year, but Mr. Wiedefeld has made a recent push to cut hours permanently.

The option that seemed least popular at the committee meeting would commit Metro to keeping current hours for evenings but changing weekend openings: The subway system would start running at 9 a.m. on Saturdays and noon on Sundays.

That option would relieve late-night workers from the stress of finding other ways home, but it would leave churchgoers and weekend workers in the lurch.

Several board members made it clear they wouldn’t support late openings on weekends.

Michael Goldman, chairman of the board’s finance committee, said he supports reduced hours, but weekend morning service is too important to give up.

“I can’t see how you can have a public transit system that starts operating at 10 or noon on Sunday,” Mr. Goldman said. “That’s not public transit.”

Of the other three options:

The first would shut down service at midnight Monday through Saturday, and at 10 p.m. Sunday.

The second would halt trains at 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and at midnight Friday and Saturday.

The third would stop rail traffic at 11:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, at 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 11 p.m. Sunday.

The board also took up discussion about outsourcing some MetroAcess service, which provides rides to subway stations to people with disabilities.

Christian Kent, director of MetroAccess services, said using Uber, Lyft and other similar companies for paratransit service to stations would save the system about $6 million a year.

Under the plan, which will start as a pilot program in Maryland in March, MetroAccess users would be able to book rides the same day via a car or ride-sharing service. Currently, MetroAccess vans must be booked 24 hours in advance.

Mr. Kent said the new plan would provide only another option and would not replace MetroAccess.

Users would pay the first $5 of a trip and Metro would pay for up to $15 for the rest of the trip. It also would pay up to $5 in any service fees. That’s compared to the $44 Metro pays for each MetroAccess trip. Riders would have to make up the difference for any trip that clocks in at more than $20.

Metro will issue contracting requests this month to hire three companies, one of which would be required to provide wheelchair-accessible rides. All companies will be required to have an app that estimates the cost of rides. And all drivers will be subjected to background checks and training to serve riders with disabilities, Mr. Kent said.

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