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Shutdown costs Metro $400K and significant ridership on average weekday: transit agency

Maryland’s and Virginia’s U.S. senators release a Metro letter with estimates on the shutdown’s impacts

A Metro train with the U.S. Capitol in the background
The Washington Post/Getty Images

The partial federal government shutdown is losing Metro 16 percent in average weekday rail ridership and 8 percent in average weekday bus ridership, per a “preliminary analysis” of the shutdown’s impacts on Metro that the transit agency described on Thursday in a letter to the U.S. senators from Maryland and Virginia. The corresponding loses in fares and parking fees are costing Metro an estimated $400,000 in revenue on the average weekday, the letter says.

Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, of Virginia, and Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, of Maryland, jointly released the letter after earlier requesting the information from the transit agency. Signed by Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, the letter says Metro’s analysis is “based on a comparison of the first full week of January (January 7-11, 2019) to an equivalent week in December (December 10-14, 2018).” Wiedefeld points out that, should the shutdown persist beyond next Monday, “many affected agencies will be unable to distribute February SmartBenefits”—subsidized transit benefits—“to participating federal employees.”

“We are concerned that this could, in turn, lead to a further decline in Metro ridership,” he explains. To address future revenue losses resulting from decreased ridership, Metro says it may consider “staffing or service adjustments, such as scaled back use of eight car trains and extra trains to meet rush hour demands,” in the short term, and seeking more funding from the District, Maryland, and Virginia—as Metro lacks a “Rainy Day Fund”—in the long term.

Fewer riders is not Metro’s only problem associated with the shutdown. The transit agency also has not received federal grants and cost reimbursements, totaling $33 million through Jan. 10, according to Wiedefeld. By the end of the month, that figure is expected to grow to $50 million. Prospective Metro funding from the Federal Transit Administration is at risk, too. “Any significant delay in the apportionment of federal [fiscal year] 2019 transit funding could result in Metro starting its new fiscal year on July 1 without federal assistance [for its] capital program,” Wiedefeld writes. If that happens, Metro says it would have to use its line of credit to fund big-ticket projects or put off maintenance work, which could harm service.

In a statement, the senators from Maryland and Virginia said the shutdown is “jeopardizing the health and stability of the Metro system.” It is still unclear when the shutdown, now the longest closure of the federal government in American history, will come to an end, and how.