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How coronavirus could impact Metro commuters for months after a cure

Metro says it is now losing $50 million a month and is requesting emergency federal funding.

WASHINGTON — This pandemic’s impact on public transit systems will be felt by commuters for months after a cure. That's according to transit advocates, who warn that without an influx of federal money, coronavirus could cripple systems like D.C.'s Metro. Trains are mostly empty of everyday riders who advocates say might not return quickly.

“This is a really critical time for the industry,” said Paul Skoutelas, president of the American Public Transit Association. Just last month, Metro celebrated a ten-year ridership record. Now, it says numbers have dropped 90%. In a letter to congress, Metro says it is now losing $50 million a month, and is requesting emergency federal funding.

Skoutelas says no transit money in a stimulus package would be catastrophic to public transit systems across the country. 

“They’re going to have to suspend services and operations and that would be devastating,” he said.

On Thursday, Metro will close 19 stations along with dozens of stations entrances to keep the system open for essential trips only.  Metro Spokesman Dan Stessel says the move avoids a systemwide shutdown. Metro says it can operate for some time on lines of credit, but maybe not long enough to see riders return.

RELATED: WMATA closes 19 Metro stations until further notice

“Payroll this week, payroll in two weeks – that part is fine,” said Stessel. “But it’s not sustainable for the long haul. We cannot go on more than a year without intervention.”

Metro cannot say when it will reopen stations like College Park, which Metro says saw only 300 riders on Monday. Transit advocates say now the failure of entire systems is now a real option. They say federal money will let public transit rebound quickly.

“Our region is fortunate to have a congressional delegation fighting for emergency funding to address the impact coronavirus is having on public transit agencies, along with so many other critical needs, as part of the national recovery,” said a WMATA statement on Wednesday. “We are truly grateful for their efforts.”

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