We Can’t Really Restart the Economy Until We Restart Transit

There has been a lot of caterwauling by some business owners about dastardly employees who are getting uppity want to get paid more. But what that complaint doesn’t consider is that their employees also have higher travel expenses (boldface mine):

But server Chablis Owens was exasperated with her transportation options. She got off work at 11:45 p.m. on Capitol Hill and didn’t get home to Northern Virginia until 3 a.m.

She took Metrorail to work for $6, but taking it home wasn’t an option since trains currently stop running at 11 p.m., even on weekends. That put Owens, who doesn’t own a vehicle, at the mercy of ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. Owens grabbed a seat at a nearby bar while she refreshed the apps and watched fares fluctuate from $67 down to $56 and then back up to $81.

“I didn’t even want to hang out after work,” she says. “I wanted to go home, but I realized I ultimately had to sit somewhere. Otherwise it’s standing on Barracks Row waiting for rates to go down.”

Owens finally settled on a $44.64 fare at 2:06 a.m. “I basically walk into every shift knowing that a third of it is going to go to getting home,” she says. “Unfortunately I feel like that’s what a lot of servers in the District are doing. You have to bite the bullet. What am I going to do? Walk five hours home to Fairfax? They have us by the balls.”

Before the pandemic, Metrorail operated until 11 p.m. on Sundays, until 11:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; and until 12:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Returning to the same operating hours as 2019 isn’t good enough, according to Hoffman.

“We talked in 2019 about the lack of late-night Metro service,” he says. “We were more aggressive than the mayor or even [Shawn] Townsend for late night service. We were championing a 24-7 model.”

Hoffman explains that when bars can stay open until 3 a.m., some workers don’t get off until 4 a.m. “What are they supposed to do?” he asks. “Figure it out? That’s been Metro’s response to the industry. Don’t rely on us to get home.”

I don’t have a solution for the 4am shift–WMATA claims they need some downtime to clean and do maintenance. But we can’t restart much of the economy, at least in metro areas, without restarting mass transit.

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1 Response to We Can’t Really Restart the Economy Until We Restart Transit

  1. It’s the same here in Buffalo & Niagara, it’s been like this FOR YEARS. Before COVID, the bars were open until 4 a.m. & bus service ended at 11:30. My son worked in the bars & had to order an Uber every shift, sometimes he didn’t make enough in tips to cover a ride home.

    I’ve been transcribing my diaries & the lack of transportation, so I can work, is a constant theme. I spent years out of work, or doing things like cleaning neighborhood houses because I could walk to the job. I often wonder what my working life would have been like if there had been a decent bus/subway/light rail system around here.

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