A proposal to close the Washington, D.C. metro until noon on Sundays has prompted strong criticism from churches whose members rely on public transportation to attend worship services.

"Opening 2 hours later on Saturday and 5 hours later on Sunday would drastically impact access to numerous events held by local congregations," warned Terrance Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, a group of some 50 religious congregations throughout the Washington, D.C. area.

In order to allow more time for safety and maintenance of the metro system, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has issued four proposals for new shortened service schedules.

Each proposal would cut back on the current schedule by eight hours per week, allowing time for work to be done on the cars and tracks.

Elements of the proposed changes include closing the metro earlier – either all week long or just on weekends – and opening later on weekends. The fourth proposal would focus all cuts to weekend hours and would include changing the Sunday start time from 7:00 a.m. to noon.

Local churches are warning that this option would severely impede the ability of people with in the D.C. area to attend worship services on Sunday mornings.

Seeking user feedback, the metro system is holding an open house and public hearing on the proposals, and is asking for public comments through 5:00 p.m. October 25 via an online survey and written comments.

In a testimony on the proposed changes, Lynch said that Proposal 4 "would be a step in the wrong direction for those that seek to attend worship services those days – as well as for others seeking to get to work or return home from work, as well as the many other users who utilize it to go about their lives on those days."

More in US

While appreciating the need for safety and on-going Metro maintenance, he stressed that many people in the area rely on the metro to attend worship services on Sunday mornings, particularly the many people in D.C. who do not own cars.  

"Indeed, the metro's opening at 7 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays provides support to congregations that despite increased congestion and numerous road closures have chosen to remain within the city," Lynch said.

"Over the last two decades, many congregations have relocated to the suburbs, often stating in part that the reason is the difficulty to find parking for their members that drive to services," he continued. "Hence, the current metro operating hours have become a part of the fabric of the lives of local congregations - the expectation being that hours of operation would expand if anything - not shrink."

The Catholic cathedral for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. also voiced concern about the proposal.

"So many parishioners take metro to St. Matthew's that our community could not come together without it," The Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle said in a website announcement, asking parishioners to contact WMATA via Facebook, email, written comments, or survey, and ask that another proposal be considered instead.

WMATA has assured its users that it will work to provide alternate options for transportation during the hours that the metro is closed, regardless of which proposal is adopted. Details of what those options would look like have not been determined.