SILVER SPRING, Md. — As low ridership during the pandemic continues to wipe out transit budgets across the country, environmental groups in the nation’s capital say proposed cuts to the region’s system would be an environmental “disaster.”

Officials at Metro, which runs through D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, are looking to end weekend subway service and shutter 19 of 91 stations, along with axing half of the entire bus system, all to compensate for a $500 million budget shortfall.

Lindsey Mendelson, clean transportation representative for the Sierra Club’s Maryland chapter pointed out the cuts would dramatically increase pollution with more people driving and poses a serious public health risk during the pandemic.

“We’ve seen health experts say that exposure to air pollution is associated with higher rates of COVID-19,” Mendelson observed. “And so not only would this be a disaster for climate pollution and pollution in general, but this also is not good news in a public health crisis either.”

Paul Wiedefeld, general manager of Metro, said the agency is facing a historic budget crisis and the pandemic is forcing it to make tough choices.

He noted a successful vaccine could change the proposal, which would become effective in July if it’s approved.

Mendelson contended the unprecedented service reductions would put nearly a third of Metro staff jobs on the line. She added they also would create severe hardships for essential and off-hours employees who rely on public transportation to get to work.

“It would also impede the economic recovery because people would have less ability to travel, to go to restaurants, shopping,” Mendelson asserted. “And once jobs come back, it would also be harder for people to work because if they can’t get to their jobs, they can’t work.”

The cutbacks to Metro, the nation’s third largest transit system, come just after other U.S. cities, including New York and San Francisco, announced major budget shortfalls.

Mendelson suggested the trend could push Congress to step up with stimulus funding to save public transportation during this economic crisis.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service

Diane Bernard is a digital and radio journalist based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area with more than 10 years of journalism experience. Her print and online credits include work for The Washington...

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