News & Politics

A Prolonged Government Shutdown Will Be Bad for Metro

The transit agency lost $5.7 million during the last shutdown.

Photo by Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz, via Wikimedia Commons.

Count the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority as yet another potential victim of a federal government shutdown. The transit authority hasn’t seen any drop-off on the first weekday of the current lapse in government funding, but a prolonged shutdown would likely dent its already-struggling finances

So far, there’s been no noticeable difference in ridership, which includes many of the roughly 380,000 federal workers in the DC region. About 173,000 passengers rode Metrorail on Monday as of 9 AM Monday, compared to an estimated 184,000 over the same period on January 8. (Metro ran a limited, holiday schedule last Monday for the observation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.)

But many of the government employees who headed in during the morning rush hour did so only to carry out their shutdown duties—which essentially consist of acknowledging notices that they’ve been furloughed and setting up out-of-office email replies.

If the shutdown continues, Metro trains will feature more empty cars and lonely platforms, leading to a sharp decline in the system’s revenue. The 16-day shutdown in October 2013 cost WMATA about $5.7 million in lost fares, and a nearly 25 percent drop in overall ridership. During that time WMATA scrapped its eight-car trains and ran only six-car trains instead. Metro spokesman Dan Stessel says the transit system is not planning to repeat that move for this shutdown.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.