Metro trains empty, but construction continues
With service limited and thousands of federal employees teleworking during the coronavirus pandemic, Metro stations are ghost towns these days. Nevertheless, that isn’t slowing down construction on the new Potomac Yard Metrorail station in Alexandria, according to city officials.
In March, the city and Metro completed pricing discussions for improved access to the station that will serve riders near Amazon.com Inc.’s HQ2 East Coast headquarters and the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus. It’s expected to be in service by 2022.
As of April 8, Metro rail ridership was down to 36,000, a 95% decrease from the same date last year, and 110,000 people rode Metrobuses that day, down 74% from 2019. And as of April 21, 33 Metro employees, including several bus drivers, had confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which runs the transportation system, began reducing service hours and routes in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. By early April, trains were running 5 to 9 a.m. weekdays, operating every 15 to 20 minutes, and from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends, with trains operating every 20-30 minutes.
Jenny Jusell, a professional bra fitter who lives in Vienna, last rode the Metro home from her job in D.C.’s Northwest area in mid-March. “There were not a ton of riders,” she says, “and I was starting to see masks being worn by some people.” Jusell told the owner of the lingerie shop where she works that she needed to stop commuting because she was worried about potentially exposing her 93-year-old mother, with whom she lives, to the coronavirus. “There’s so much at stake.”
Also in April, the WMATA Board of Directors passed Metro’s $3.9 billion FY2021 budget, including $2.1 billion in operating expenses and $1.8 billion in capital investments. Plans include building phase 2 of the Silver Line, an 11-mile extension expected to cost $78.4 million, which will bring in funding from Loudoun County once it’s operational.
However, the Metro system has lost approximately $2.5 million per weekday since ridership began plummeting in March — a total of about $67 million as of April 2, according to a WMATA spokesperson. The WMATA’s 2021 budget notes that the pandemic has had a “significant” negative impact on the transit system’s revenues and expenses in FY2020, and that may extend into its next fiscal year, which begins July 1.