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Transportation

How the D.C. Metro's Service Cuts Will Affect Low-Income Riders

Those with few options besides public transit need extra consideration.
Commuters watch a train arrive at the Gallery Place-Chinatown station.
Commuters watch a train arrive at the Gallery Place-Chinatown station.REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Last March, on the day WMATA shut down Metrorail at an afternoon’s notice, Washington, D.C., workers scrambled for a substitute means to commute. Some car owners opted to drive, cramming the Beltway and city streets. Others opted for bikeshare, gratis for the day. Still more walked or took Ubers, cabs, and buses (at least three Circulator buses reportedly broke down), and arrived to work at some loose approximation of their usual start time. And many stayed home, enjoying the option to telecommute.

But not everyone had the luxury of alternatives. Among the 11 percent of Metrorail customers who earn less than $30,000 per year, many work low-wage, hourly shifts that don’t offer the option to telework. These riders can’t necessarily afford the convenience of a cab, an Uber, or even a smartphone to hail one. These riders still need to be able to get to their jobs, and for 29 hours in March, it was a lot harder for some.