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Posted at 5:10 PM ET, 02/14/2011

How would Metro cut service?

By Robert Thomson

During his dozen years on the Metro board, D.C. Council member Jim Graham knew how to deliver services for the District's riders, businesses and neighborhoods. Those services included the night owl trains on weekends and the extension of the Yellow Line north to Fort Totten.

On Saturday, Graham participated in a League of Women Voters forum on changing the way the transit system is governed, and he helped extend that useful civics lesson into the realm of regional politics.

[I was moderator. The panel also included David Alpert of the Metro Riders Advisory Council and the Greater Greater Washington blog, James Dyke of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and Arthur Guzzetti of the American Public Transportation Association. Metro board chair Catherine Hudgins also sat in.]

It rankles Graham that his former colleagues on the Metro board are discussing the possibility of cutting some services that are popular in the District, such as the night owl trains. Looming in the background during any such discussion policy changes is a long-standing element in Metro governance: The jurisdictional veto. It's the great equalizer between the city and suburbs.

Maryland, the District and Virginia each have two votes on the Metro board. But because of the veto, you can have four votes for a service cut and two against, and the motion dies if the two no votes are from the same jurisdiction.

The Board of Trade urged curtailment and possible elimination of the jurisdictional veto in its governance report, called Moving Metro Forward. That might allow a more regional approach to transit planning.

Graham is far more friendly to the jurisdictional veto. He said it had been used only rarely. Dyke noted that fear of the veto is present in many discussions of Metro policy. And it will be this spring, as the board talks about potential service cuts to either save money or expand the window for maintenance in the rail system.

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, a new member of the board, may have been channeling the ghost of Graham last week when he asked the transit staff -- since it was reviewing the night owl service -- to also review the cost-effectiveness of the extra Red Line service between Grosvenor and Shady Grove.

It's unlikely we'll see any major cuts in service unless the pain is shared equally.

By Robert Thomson  | February 14, 2011; 5:10 PM ET
Categories:  Metro, Transportation Politics  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock, Metrorail  
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"It's unlikely we'll see any major cuts in service unless the pain is shared equally."


Painful cuts in service are forthcoming.

Posted by: Greent | February 14, 2011 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Cut service, raise fares, drive more people to using cars in a city where parking is at a premium on a good day, push more people who can't afford to park and ride onto buses that are never on time and get stuck in bad weather... Great idea, shaft overnight shift workers! That's how to run a business and build loyalty. Jesus.

I already drive in to work downtown from NW now more often than I ever did for two reasons: thanks to the latest fare hikes it actually only costs me $4 more a day to drive and park than it does to take the Metro, and more importantly, Metro service has gotten so haphazard -- even during peak hours, not to metnion nights when I have to stay downtown later -- that it's just plain more convenient to drive right now, truth be told.

What Metro should do is INCREASE service so that MORE people will ride the Metro. But then, what else is new? Sigh.

Posted by: phlash51 | February 14, 2011 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Maybe it's time to just step back and reassess what Metro can really handle. Sure, on many nights, no track work has to occur between 12am-3am, so you might say, why not run some trains then? But Metro's making it pretty clear that lots of maintenance has to be done - in the form of planned weekend closures, or unplanned track problems during rush hour.

Maybe what's best to "run a business and build loyalty" is to provide the best possible service when the most people need it: rush hour. Maybe closing at regular time on weekends helps improve rush hour performance because problems become less likely. Maybe Metro took a step too far in offering the recent 3am service.

And, you know, traffic's not so bad at 2am, so I'm not too worried about overnight shift workers. Metro can't be everything for everybody. If there's a market, add some late buses.

To be honest, I think Metro's floating the "cut back to midnight" plan so that when everyone agrees to just stay open until, say, 1am, people will think it was a compromise. And maybe that's the better idea.

Posted by: Chris737 | February 14, 2011 4:29 PM | Report abuse

The complaint by ADMITTED drunks, "How will I get home?" Well- leave earlier (drink less) and the cab won't be much more than the alcoholic binge without it. And, uh, designated drivers?

Posted by: mrcomptech | February 14, 2011 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Why exactly does Metro need to keep losing money and maintenance time so that white people can get drunk?

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 14, 2011 5:23 PM | Report abuse

phlash51, Metro can't handle the current commute without Holocaust-style train cars. How do you propose fitting enough people into the Metro system that it would become profitable? Cut out the trains and just have them walk through the tunnels?

Posted by: getjiggly1 | February 14, 2011 5:26 PM | Report abuse

WMATA desperately needs to control costs, improve maintenance, and turn around the troubled transit system.

So it's fortunate that obstructionists like Jim Graham and Chris Zimmerman are no longer on the Metro Board. (The blue-ribbon Metro reform commission had it right -- it's a bad idea to have self-serving local politicians on the Metro Board.)

The plan to trim late-night service makes a lot of sense. That service is costly, it serves few riders, and it effectively blocks any maintenance on those nights. Metro could provide substitute bus service for the small number of late-night riders, at much lower cost, which would allow much-needed rail maintenance to proceed.

Let's hope the new General Manager and Board members will have the courage to press forward on this budget reform plans, despite Mr. Graham's sour grapes from the sidelines.

Posted by: jrmil | February 14, 2011 6:57 PM | Report abuse

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