The country’s two biggest rail systems – in New York and Washington, D.C. – are taking drastic measures to address the declining ridership amid the coronavirus, with transit officials in the nation’s capital proposing a stop to all weekend services to meet budget.

On Friday, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will present a plan that also will likely call for shutting down rails service at 9 p.m. daily, closing 19 stations and having trains run only every half hour. The plan would also spell out the elimination of 2,400 jobs, as the agency tries to close a half-billion dollar deficit.

The agency is legally required to maintain a balanced budget, is forcing officials to propose such severe measures.

“When you have limited dollars, you have to prioritize based on needs and [ridership is lowest] on the weekends,” said Paul Wiedefeld, WMATA’s general manager.

Weekend ridership is down 80% compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

The D.C. Metro has been operating since May with $800 million allocated by Congress to the agency from the CARES Act. But that funding runs out early next year, and the agency must prepare for fiscal 2021, which begins in July. 

A new coronavirus relief package could change the agency’s outlook. And despite progress on Capitol Hill apparently being made on a new stimulus package this week, the agency is preparing for the worst case scenario. The Metro’s budget will be finalized in March. 

Meanwhile in New York, home to the nation’s largest mass transit system, the MTA is looking at $12 billion in federal funds it will need to acquire by March to avoid significant cuts to subway and commuter-train service.

The MTA approves its 2021 budget in December 2020, and is therefore operating on an even more compressed timeline than the D.C. agency.

Without additional federal dollars, the MTA could plan on service cuts that would reduce as much as 40% of subway and bus services, and 50% of commuter-rail lines. The MTA is also projecting that without federal aid, it will be forced to eliminate 8,000 jobs. 

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