WASHINGTON — While Virginia and Maryland explore executing Phase 1 of their reopening process, Metro has designed a plan to slowly integrate service back up. But don't expect pre-coronavirus levels of service until sometime in early 2021.
Metro's General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said the plan aims to keep riders and employees safe while running enough service to maintain social distancing and earn the public's trust that the system is safe and clean to use.
The COVID-19 Recovery Plan increases service in three phases while staying ahead of rider demand until a vaccine is available.
However, reduced service hours remain likely for the rest of the year. Metro is also asking for both businesses and the federal government to have flexible schedules and telework to spread out demand.
The board is expected to meet Thursday to discuss the plan.
"While ridership demand is difficult to predict for the next 12-18 months, our goal is to increase service in stages, ahead of demand, to maintain social distancing for customers to the extent possible," Metro said in a planning update document.
The system will also be impacted by the previously-announced closing of a big section of Orange and Silver Line in Virginia for work and a series of mini-shutdowns that will close a big chunk of the Yellow Line north of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Metro: 3 Return To Normal Phases
Metro announced on March 17 the drastically reduced service as stay-at-home orders were issued, reducing the number of bus lines and rail stations in addition to scaling back on train frequency to every 30 minutes.
Originally, Metro's new hours for Metrorail service were weekdays from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., however, on April 6, officials announced yet another change in operation with hours from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends.
Additionally, Metro also reduced and canceled track work, except emergency maintenance and inspections, to avoid unexpected delays and maintain 15-minute intervals between trains.
"The actions directed by the Task Force today will help Metro return to normal service when the pandemic emergency is over and our region begins to recover," Metro’s Chief Safety Officer Theresa M. Impastato said.
Here's a detailed plan for Metro's 'Return to Normal' rolling out in three phases:
Estimated start in late-May.
- Service: Slightly higher levels of services with capacity for 40,000 riders on the rail and 85,000 on the bus.
- Trains: Eight-car trains come every 20 minutes on all lines. Red Line trains arrive every 15 minutes.
- Hours remain from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends.
- When considered safe, reopen first and eighth cars of trains to increase capacity.
- Re-open select stations that have been closed due to low ridership.
- Buses: Operate Sunday-like headways on Sunday-only routes, running 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
- Rear boarding and free fares remain. The first 10 seats of every Metrobus will continue to be sectioned off to protect operators.
Estimated start around August.
- Service: Restore full connectivity, with a reduced level of service for 200,000 Metrorail trips and 110,000 on Metrobus daily:
- Trains: Every 10 minutes.
- Hours remain 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends.
- Ask for regional employers to stagger work times to increase daily capacity.
- Bus: Return to all local routes with reduced frequency.
- No peak service. Expand hours to 5 a.m. to midnight daily.
- Rear boarding and free fares remain.
Estimated start in March 2021.
- Service: A return to normalcy with room for pre-pandemic levels.
- Trains: Increase service to pre-pandemic levels.
- Hours extended to midnight.
- Buses: Return to full weekday service with all routes operating at pre-pandemic operating hours.
- Resume typical front-door boarding and end free fares.
In this stage, Metro is evaluating whether to accelerate the installation of SmarTrip machines on rear doors to enable a smooth transition to all-door boarding at this time.
Ridership is reportedly down approximately 95 percent during the coronavirus pandemic since Metro began urging customers to limit the use of the system to "essential trips only." WMATA reported approximately 150,000 riders across rail and bus on April 2.
"Metro's ridership drop-off has been particularly acute after 9 p.m.," a Metro statement said. "The shorter service hours will also allow frontline transit workers, who have been serving the public without interruption, to spend more time with their families, all while reducing their exposure to the public."
Previously, WMATA closed 19 stations and several entrances and exits, citing low ridership and a need to conserve cleaning supplies.
"Metro is taking action to make its current 2-3 week warehouse supply stretch until massive orders placed in late January are received," WMATA said in a press release.
Here are the closed stations
- Federal Center SW
- Federal Triangle
- Mt Vernon Square
- Judiciary Square
- Eisenhower Ave
- Virginia Square
- Cleveland Park
- East Falls Church
- College Park
- Morgan Boulevard
- Van Dorn St
- Arlington Cemetery