The District told Metro it no longer has the money to pay for the system to stay open late for Nationals games that are delayed by rain or extra innings. But on Thursday morning, officials said D.C. would reconsider.
The news of the District's decision, delivered in an April 16 letter, comes at a time when Metro is dealing with a $29 million budget gap. If followed through upon, it puts Metro in the position of choosing between leaving fans of the sorriest team in baseball stranded or continuing a service it cannot afford.
"How do we explain that we are running extra service for Nationals fans late at night and at the same time explain to riders that we may have to cut bus routes?" Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein asked. Because of the budget deficit, the agency is laying off employees and considering major cuts in bus service.
But don't worry, fans. Mayor Adrian Fenty is going to solve all of the money problems. How do we know? Because he said so Thursday morning.
"We're going to fix it. We're going to resolve it," Fenty said during his weekly segment on NBC4. "We're going to find the money. We'll work with Metro. We'll work with anyone else who is interested -- maybe our regional partners. We'll get that resolved."
Fenty also said fans shouldn't be concerned about the possibility of being stranded at the ballpark with nothing to eat but stale nachos and cold yellow cheeze sauce.
"No worries, service will not be interrupted," Fenty said. "It's too important to keep our major league franchises going full speed ahead. And $27,000 is a lot of money per hour, but we've dealt with bigger problems."
Deputy Mayor Neil O. Albert told the Washington Post that something would be worked out.
Albert said the confusion about the city's payment of late-service fees was the result of "one part of the administration not communicating with another part of the administration."
(District transportation director Gabe) Klein "made a decision that wasn't informed by the history of our agreement with Metro on this issue," said Albert, who is also a member of the Metro board. The board is likely to discuss the issue in a closed-door session this morning.
Nats fans probably suffer enough just by watching the team play. Should they endure the added misery of telling them they're stranded in Southwest?
Ever since Nationals Park was built, Metro was touted as the best way (and nearly the only way) to get to the stadium. If the trains don't run late, it seems like the best way might be to fight the traffic and drive, and then pay out the wazoo for a parking space.
Of course, that's only if you want to stay for an entire game that might run long. If you're just there for the chili dogs and a beer, you're still free to leave in the bottom of the third.
Metro officials said they did not know of the change until they got the letter from Klein, three days after the Nationals' first home game.
Then team officials said they did not find out until Monday night, when a rain delay led to the game going past Metro's midnight closing.
Under a 2003 Metro policy, organizations that want Metrorail to open early or close late must pay the agency $27,000 per hour. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Marine Corps Marathon, the Washington Redskins and groups that perform at the Verizon Center are among such events that require the fee.
The money must be paid two weeks in advance; organizers are refunded if fares exceed that amount, which usually happens with large events.
So would the Nationals pick up the tab to make sure fans get home safe? From the Washington Post:
Asked whether the team or its owners would agree to pay future costs associated with late game-related Metro closings, Nationals president Stan Kasten said, "I don't yet have all the facts to answer appropriately." He said the team was told "in the middle of the game" that the city was no longer paying the $27,000 fee. He directed questions to the team's public relations department, saying, "if we choose to answer your question." Team spokeswoman Chartese Burnett did not return several telephone calls to her office and cellphone. ...
The stadium lease between the District and the Nationals does not address the operation of Metro or who should pay if the trains have to run past normal closing times. The Lerner family, which owns the team, had refused to pay for the extra service, so the city agreed to, city and Metro officials said.