Washington, D.C., needed a Middle Eastern country to pay for extended Metro service for Game Four.
On Wednesday, news broke that the D.C. Metro would stay in operation later following game four of the NHL Eastern Conference Finals. Hockey fans rejoiced, as did people just looking to go out at night and not have to spring for a cab.
But then the fine print started coming out. The extended hours were made possible through a $100,000 donation from … the Middle Eastern country of Qatar. That’s right, in order for the D.C. Metro to provide a basic service for residents and visitors attending (or watching) the Capitals’ playoff game, they solicited donations from a foreign country.
As if that weren’t backwards enough, apparently the news was premature. While the Metro was in talks with the Qatari embassy to fund the after-hours service, they hadn’t put the ink to paper yet.
The news gave the Qataris cold feet, and it looked for a while like the deal wasn’t going to go through and hockey fans would need to Uber it home.
But then, Mayor Muriel Bowser was finally able to confirm that a deal had been struck between the Qatari embassy and the DowntownDC Business Improvement District.
Qatar and the @DowntownDCBID teamed up years ago to deliver City Center DC. Today, they’re doing it again to deliver late night Metro service to Caps fans. Beat the rain and Lightning, take Metro and let’s #GoCaps! @Amb_AlThani @QatarEmbassyUSA #ALLCAPS
— Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) May 17, 2018
All of this has a lot of people scratching their heads. Why does the nation’s capital need to rely on charity from an oil-rich gulf state like Qatar to keep public transportation running? Why would we take that charity?
I’ve been to professional sports games across the United States. No other city in the country has to rely on a foreign country to keep the trains running during playoff games.
And we’re not talking about super-late hours like 2 or 3 a.m. The metro’s normal weekday service runs until 11:30 p.m. Thanks to Qatar’s donation, it will stay running until 12:30 a.m.
Is the Metro free? After all, if Qatar paid to keep it running, shouldn’t passengers get to ride it for free?
Not. A. Chance.
Under the agreement with Qatar, the $100,000 donation could end up being refunded if the Metro ends up making a profit. Riders will still be required to pay the fare. This really illustrates just how mismanaged the Metro is these days. Even with a $100,000 cash infusion to extend service an extra hour during a busy home playoff game, profitability is still only a “maybe.”
Last year on the week of January 20, 2017, Metro officials cheered how the service was able to handle more than a million additional riders for the inauguration and women’s march.
“It was Metro’s finest hour,” said Jack Evans at the time, Chairman of the Metro’s board and D.C. councilmember.
But what followed shocked everyone who heard it.
“Even though we had a million people riding the system, we probably spent more on operating the system than the additional revenue we took in. So we lose money,” Evans explained.
Even when a million additional people buy and use Metro tickets in a three day period, the service still can’t turn a profit. That is stunning. If a million extra riders can’t help the Metro become profitable, what could? If a foreign country paying the operating costs can’t help the Metro turn a profit, what could?
In some Qatari government spreadsheet, there is a list of all of the state’s charitable giving. Next to “delivering clean drinking water to sub-Saharan Africa” and “assistance for Syrian refugees,” there will be a line item detailing the donation to keep the D.C. Metro open an extra hour for a professional hockey game.
That is embarrassing.