- The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) issued a request for proposals (RFP), calling for ride-hailing and taxi companies to provide discounted late-night, on-demand transportation in a one-year pilot program.
- The RFP comes on the heels of WMATA’s board of directors voting against extending Metrorail’s operating hours so the agency can continue to perform more maintenance overnight, when the system does not run. The rides are designed to help late-night workers, and would be offered seven days a week between midnight and 4 a.m. WMATA would pay the first $3 of the fare, with registered riders limited to 10 trips per week.
- “The system is safer and more reliable today as a result of the robust preventive maintenance work we are doing during those critical overnight hours,” WMATA General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld said in a statement. “At the same time, we understand that Metro is a vital link for many late-night workers. That’s why we are looking at innovative ways to provide affordable transportation for workers while balancing our commitment to safety.”
WMATA’s board went back and forth on a series of options to extend Metrorail’s late-night service, which has been curtailed in recent years to help the system deal with a backlog of maintenance issues that have plagued reliability and been behind a continued drop in ridership. This proposed partnership with the likes of Uber and Lyft, or with the city’s taxi companies if they choose to reply, should offer another option for people to get around late at night without their cars, while also allowing the system to continue to rebuild and carry out maintenance tasks.
If the program works as intended, those who work late-night shifts but do not own a personal vehicle could see a benefit. Rather than wait for buses to start running to help them get around, they can use an on-demand service to get home. WMATA noted in its announcement of the RFP that "at least 29" transit agencies or cities have partnered with ride-hailing or taxi services as an alternative. For example, the work Uber has done in Cincinnati, OH shows what can be done when the two parties work closely together.
The announcement of these potential partnerships came under fire on social media from some WMATA critics, who accuse the system of giving up on providing effective public transit and adding to its own so-called “death spiral” of falling ridership and raising fare prices. But as city residents look for new and more efficient ways to get around, more and more transit agencies could look to enter into partnerships such as this with private companies, which have been effective in many cities despite being blamed for contributing to higher congestion.