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Metro moves to subsidize late-night rides on Uber and Lyft as a substitute for rail service

The transit agency is asking for firms that could offer on-demand transportation to overnight workers

An empty Metrorail car
Orhan Cam/Shutterstock

For the past few years, Metro has closed its rail system before midnight on Sundays through Thursdays and at 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, the result of scheduling more repair work overnight to address maintenance and safety issues. Those service hours have forced many late-night workers in the region, including those in the hospitality and healthcare industries, to take Metrorail alternatives in the early morning, from Uber and Lyft to taxis and carpools.

Now, Metro is aiming to alleviate the inconvenience from its shortened hours by subsidizing on-demand rides that late-night workers take within its service area. The transit agency has released a solicitation for companies that could provide discounted rides for these workers, between midnight and 4 a.m. seven days a week. Through a one-year pilot program, Metro would fund up to $1 million in subsidized rides, guaranteeing $3 per ride for up to 10 weekly rides for an individual late-night worker. The program could kick off as soon as this summer.

The Washington Post initially revealed this plan last month, and Metro officially announced its solicitation on Wednesday. In a statement, Metro CEO Paul Wiedefeld suggested that the trial program would be an “innovative wa[y] to provide affordable transportation for workers while balancing our commitment to safety.” The transit agency adds that it would review the the eventual pilot program’s results to figure out whether to continue it for more than a year.

On Thursday, Metro’s board voted to preserve its current hours for another year, as expected. The decision followed a failed push by District leaders, including Mayor Muriel Bowser and Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans, to have late-night service on Metrorail restored to 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturday and midnight the rest of the week. The board’s representatives from Virginia and Maryland and federal officials resisted that effort over cost and safety concerns.

According to Metro’s solicitation for subsidized car rides, the transit agency would work with the chosen firms to “identify and authenticate” late-night workers’ eligibility for the program. That eligibility would be determined before a rider requests any discounted car trips. Riders also may have to provide their SmarTrip card numbers, contact information, employer name and contact information, and relevant work hours in order to participate in the trial program.