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U.S. capital may end weekend subway service in 2021

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The subway system serving the U.S. capital region may be forced to make devastating cuts in 2021, including ending weekend services, closing 19 stations and shrinking weekday operations if Congress does not approve additional assistance.

FILE PHOTO: A person rests on a Washington Metro subway car wearing a face mask, following Mayor Muriel Bowser's declaration of a state of emergency due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Washington, U.S., April 13, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

The transit system’s proposed budget, which was made public late Monday, is set to be presented Friday and projects total ridership will rise to just 34% of pre-COVID-19 levels for its budget year that starts July 1.

The proposal calls for preserving “affordable bare bones service network to sustain essential travel and support the region’s recovery” even as it projects revenue declining by more than $500 million.

It also proposes dramatically cutting bus services, from 60 routes to 41. Thousands of Washington-area workers rely on buses and trains to get to jobs throughout the region and many students use the system to attend school.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) serves a region of about 6 million people and last year had 182 million rail riders, but like many public transit systems in the United States, has seen demand plummet because of the coronavirus pandemic. WMATA, which is already cutting 1,400 jobs, projects it will need to cut another 2,400 jobs to meet next year’s budget.

In April, Congress approved $25 billion for U.S. public transit systems, including $1.02 billion for the Washington area systems, including about $775 million for WMATA.

Much of the U.S. transportation sector has been battered by COVID-19 as millions of workers stay home rather than commute to urban centers and tourism remains sharply lower.

Earlier this month, New York City warned it could cut subway and bus service by up to 40% and commuter train service by 50% as it seeks $12 billion in emergency funding.

Transit agencies are urging Congress to approve $32 billion in additional assistance, while U.S. passenger railroad Amtrak seeks nearly $3 billion in additional aid.

Private U.S. bus companies and others are seeking $10 billion in government assistance, while U.S airlines are seeking another $25 billion in payroll support.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Sam Holmes