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Employees’ transportation to and from work is the fifth biggest concern nightlife establishments have about their industry, according to a new report released today from Mayor Muriel Bowser and Director of Nightlife and Culture Shawn Townsend. Of those surveyed, 81 percent said restoring Metro’s extended hours would benefit their business. Because of a number of factors including the cost of housing, 54 percent of “late night” workers live outside of the District.
The release of the report coincides with a “#KeepMetroOpen” rally scheduled for 4 p.m. today at DCFD Engine 2 Rescue 1 located at 500 F St. NW. Following the rally, WMATA will host its FY2021 public budget hearing, where hours will be discussed. Back in 2017 Metro shortened its hours and set the goal of restoring regular hours (midnight closures on weekdays and 3 a.m. closures on weekends) by June 2019. That hasn’t happened yet. Metro says the extra overnight hours have allowed them to perform preventative maintenance that they believe has made the system safer.
The proposed change that will be discussed at the budget hearing today would reinstate midnight closings Mondays through Thursdays and expand service on Fridays and Saturdays until 2 a.m.
Zac Hoffman, a bartender and vice president of the DC Bar and Restaurant Workers Alliance, plans to attend the rally and budget hearing. “Late night workers have always needed safe and reliable transportation access to get home from a shift,” Hoffman says. “This Metro budget only slightly addresses that need with the small extension of rail hours.”
He emphasizes that any slashes in services, from rail to busses, jeopardize worker safety, forcing people to walk longer distances late at night. “DCBRWA is asking for a re-evaluation of this budget to ensure all residents are considered, especially bar and restaurant workers.”
“Nightlife workers have been long seen as the outliers in our community,” says Andrea Tateosian, a bartender and the president of the DC Craft Bartenders Guild. “We adjust as best we can to survive financially in a society that is not structured for us. Many struggle to find affordable nighttime child care. We try to stay healthy with no health care or benefits and many of us live far from where we work.”
“For the dishwasher commuting from Maryland, a $30 car share home is just not an option,” she continues. “WMATA should recognize these realities and restore late night hours for the people in our community who are cooking our food, ringing up our late night purchases, washing our dishes, and serving our drinks.”
Transportation isn’t the only concern of nightlife businesses, which, according to the report, make up a $7.1 billion industry supporting nearly 65,000 jobs, more than 2,400 businesses, and $562 million in annual tax revenue.
The report names the 16 biggest challenges for nightlife businesses in D.C. using survey responses and focus group feedback from 180 respondents representing bars, clubs, restaurants, theaters, and other entertainment venues.
In order from most pressing to least pressing:
Customer acquisition and retainment
Navigating the regulatory process
Employee transportation to and from work
Navigating alcoholic licensing processes
Conflicts with residential neighbors
Conflicts with business neighbors
The Bowser administration named Townsend the director of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture in Nov. 2018. The position came out of legislation Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd introduced in 2017 that established the office. Addressing many of these concerns will fall on Townsend’s shoulders. He comes from the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, where he supervised six investigators who conduct routine inspections of businesses that hold licenses to serve alcohol.
City Paper checked in with Townsend in May, six months into his tenure. He stressed that the office was created from scratch. “As the office gets established and as we grow, we’ll get more leverage and more resources,” he said at the time.
The report released today concurs that the first year “prioritized outreach, information gathering, and relationship-building.” In its second year, the report says, the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture will take a more proactive approach.