New York City was harder hit by snowstorm Jonas than Washington, getting 27 inches of snow compared with 18 or 19 inches in Washington. Yet New York’s subways kept running and commuter trains and buses operated for as long as they could, while Washington Metro shut down its system before the storm got serious.
Sunday morning, New York sprang back to life while Washington remained shut down. By this morning, the vast majority of the New York system, including most commuter-rail lines, almost the entire subway system, and some buses will be operating. Washington, meanwhile, will operate the subway portions of its rail lines and just 22 out of 325 bus lines.
Why didn’t Washington run its subways during the storm, as New York City did? They could have run trains (as they plan to do today) from Ballston to Eastern Market, Medical Center to Union Station, and Fort Totten to Anacostia. Those are three significant routes that pretty much run the length and breadth of the district.
The transit agency’s reasoning seems inconsistent. Supposedly, passenger safety outweighed the inconvenience of having no service. But how unsafe is it to operate a subway in a snowstorm? How safe is it to walk long distances in a snowstorm when underground tracks could have been available?
Officials also claimed that not running the subway freed work crews to plow out above-ground tracks. But train operators are different from maintenance workers; under union rules they couldn’t (and I’m sure they didn’t) put operators to work shoveling snow. Washington Metro’s failure to do what it could to keep people mobile during the storm is just one more strike against it.