Students split on new Metro bill amid widespread delays
A $100 SmarTrip stipend in the DC Council bill is enticing for some, while others disagree with the proposition
A bill that could fund local bus routes and provide a $100 transit stipend to D.C. residents has received a range of reactions as commuters experience delays on Metro trains and buses.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority puts out several status alerts around the clock, and this month is no exception. Several lines, most notably the Blue and Yellow, have been experiencing delays due to ongoing construction and closed stations. Many stations across the city also have long term escalator outages, including the Tenleytown-AU station.
AU students have been feeling the effects of these delays. Reese Baldwin, a D.C. native and sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, has been riding the Metro since fourth grade. “I only use the Metro to something that I know I can be late to,” adding that the Metro trains have “abandoned me all over the city multiple times because sometimes the ‘last train’ never comes.”
CAS sophomore Miles Wilson has also been experiencing difficulties with the Metro. He grew up off the Silver Line in McLean, Virginia, and has been regularly using the Metro since middle school. He says Metro delays have made it difficult for him to get to his jobs as a DC Reads tutor and dog sitter this year, having resorted to driving on several occasions.
These delays come as five Metro station names were changed by local jurisdictions in early September across the Red, Blue, Silver, Orange, Green and Yellow lines. In response to the rebrandings, Wilson says, “This community is changing. I don’t like that.” He’s not alone in that sentiment; DCist reported these new titles came even after surveys showed rider disapproval with the name changes.
Amid these problems, there is potential for change. A new bill presented by D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the Metro for D.C. Amendment Act of 2022, would allot $10 million per year towards fixing issues with local bus service and allow a $100 monthly stipend for D.C. residents to ride transit services.
If this legislation is passed, it would prioritize lower-income residents first before expanding to all D.C. residents as part of a four-tiered rollout approach.
“We would start paying for the benefit for those who need it first, before we offer it to everyone else,” the Metro for DC website says. The funding for improved bus service would also target “communities that have long been overlooked for serious investment as a commitment to transit equity.”
The bill proposes the $100 balance would be added to SmarTrip cards and could be used anywhere that already accepts SmarTrip, including the DC Circulator buses. The balance would reset every month, so the D.C. government would only pay for funds that are actually used.
The bill’s goal is not described as providing free public transportation, but rather as an opportunity to gain new riders while giving assistance to underserved areas and residents in need. This increased ridership would be welcome, as WMATA expects a $185 million funding gap in the new year.
Baldwin says that despite being eligible, he would not apply for the program should the bill be passed. He believes the district should give money directly to Metro rather than using residents as a middleman.
He also said that he has witnessed Metro bus drivers “wave people on” without paying fares, so “if Metro wants money, they should enforce people to pay.”
Wilson disagreed. “I definitely would apply for that and use it,” he said. He explained it would be nice to take a bus for a couple of stops without having to think about the fare, but mentioned that he thinks the buses should just be free for everyone.
The Metro for D.C. bill was advanced out of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment on Sept. 26 and is currently awaiting vote in the D.C. Council. It’s unclear if the bill will pass, but the committee was unanimously in favor of passing it onto the next stage of voting.