Metro’s Proposal to Maintain Weekend Service Cuts Draws Mixed Response
Local officials, business owners disagree over impact
Diners eat at a row of restaurants on Bethesda Row. Limited Metro hours would mean no late service on weekends, which some officials say is a concern for local businesses.
Amy Marie Moore
After Metro’s proposal this week to continue closing early on weekends after completion of its maintenance surge, not all local officials and business people agree on the impact the reduced hours could have on local businesses and residents.
Since the beginning of its SafeTrack maintenance program in June, Metro has ended service at midnight Fridays and Saturdays and 10 p.m. Sundays. General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said at a press conference Wednesday the plan to continue these early closings would allow for more needed repairs on the troubled system.
Ginanne Italiano, president and CEO of the Bethesda Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has been supportive of Metro, but normal operating hours need to return after SafeTrack is over at the end of March. Before the extensive repair project began, Metro operated until 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
“This is about business, and it’s about people and employees, but it’s also about the customers and it’s also about tourists,” she said. “This greater Washington area has millions of people coming into it every day, and they need the Metro.”
Noting the hub of restaurants in the Bethesda and Chevy Chase area, Italiano said the county’s nightlife is important to its economy and relying on taxis or cars is not a viable option for all county residents.
But restaurant owner Roberto Pietrobono, who owns Olazzo in Bethesda and Silver Spring and Gringos & Mariachis in Bethesda, said he wasn’t sure if Metro’s reduced hours impacted business at his restaurants. Still, the lack of service after midnight could impact employees who use Metro to get home from work, he said.
County Council member Roger Berliner agreed the limited service would present a problem for late-night workers, but otherwise supported the proposal, citing the need for fixing Metro tracks for “more than a couple hours in the middle of the night.”
“I understand that there’s nervousness about the broader economic impacts of this, but there have to be equal concerns about the economic impacts of a system not operating as it must,” he said.
Berliner also dismissed concerns about the impact on Bethesda’s burgeoning nightlife scene—with celebrity chef Peter Chang’s restaurant among others set to open next year—saying the area’s clientele would be able to pay for other forms of transportation.
“The people that are going to Peter Chang’s are, in my judgment, people who can probably afford an Uber ride,” he said. “We are in an era in which there are many alternatives for people who want to enjoy nightlife in Bethesda.”
However, Metro’s plan may be stymied by the possibility of legal action. A similar transit service cut in Boston resulted in a federal complaint that the limited hours violated the civil right of low-income and minority residents, according to The Washington Post.
Italiano said limiting Metro service as proposed would be a black mark on the reputation of the D.C. area.
If transportation systems in other cities, such as New York, “run all night long, what is this saying about the Washington area?” she said. “Are we becoming a bedroom community that can’t provide train service and public transportation after midnight?”
With the plan pending approval from the Metro board of directors, Wiedefeld stressed the proposed limited service is a necessary safety and maintenance issue and downplayed any economic impacts.
“This is not a financial issue to me,” he said at the press conference. “This is again a safety issue and a maintenance issue, so that’s what’s driving it. I haven’t even looked at the numbers yet to be honest with you. It’s more that we need the time to do the work that I feel we need to do.”