BY DAN SCHERE
Washington’s regional transit system is planning a $1 million, one-year pilot program to subsidize taxi and ride-sharing trips for Metro users between midnight and 4 a.m. when the subway system is closed.
Business leaders in Montgomery County say the service could help restaurants and other late-night workers.
Metrorail has been closing at 11:30 p.m. on weeknights and 1 a.m. on weekends for required track repairs and system maintenance and late-night bus service is limited.
“We have almost 200 restaurants in Bethesda, and many of them stay open past midnight,” said Ginanne Italiano, president and CEO of the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce, who supports more options for employees who work late hours and customers of bars and restaurants. “And it’s not just restaurants, but also office workers like cleaning folks and others who do work late.”
Italiano said she recognizes that Metro needs to perform nighttime maintenance and that it isn’t realistic to expect the system to do so while returning to late-night hours.
“Metro is doing what they’re supposed to be doing … so we understood, but at the same time, it didn’t help our economy,” she said.
Similar concerns were heard voiced last month at a public forum in Silver Spring.
Stephanie Steele, who works for The Fillmore music venue and was the past chairwoman of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, Steele said 450 businesses in downtown Silver Spring rely on Metro.
“Simply said, Metro’s reduction of night time hours are reducing the nighttime economy,” she said.
Jane Redicker, the President and CEO of the Silver Spring Chamber, said she too had observed a suffering restaurant industry in the downtown area due to the early Metro closings.
“It’s an interesting proposal and an interesting way to help alleviate some of the challenges that some of the nighttime economy has faced with the early shutdowns,” she said of the ride-sharing idea.
Redicker said she has also spoken to a number of property owners who have had trouble attracting tenants due to the fact that Silver Spring is located on the often-delayed Red Line. She said she is looking forward to the service improvements Metro is implementing in the coming year, which includes ending turnbacks at Silver Spring and adding more trains during rush hours.
“We supported ending the turnbacks. That’ll be a big help,” she said.
Under the proposal released Wednesday, Metro would pay for the first $3 of each ride for 10 rides per week. Trips would need to take place within Metro’s service area.
Wednesday’s announcement came two weeks after the transit agency’s board voted to maintain the current early closing times of 11:30 p.m. on weeknights and 1 a.m. on weekends. The earlier closing times have been in place since 2016 to allow the transit system to perform nighttime maintianance.
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