APTA | Passenger Transport
December 1, 2008

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Washington, DC Area Transit Systems Gear Up for Inauguration Day

Estimates vary, but on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, Washington, DC metropolitan area public transit systems expect to transport at least 1 million people.
To accommodate these crowds – and officials expect anywhere from 3 to 5 million people overall – the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) will be running an unprecedented rush-hour service for 15 consecutive hours.  Even with that, the agency is telling people to expect hugely crowded rail stations, packed trains and buses, and delays of sometimes hours when the daytime festivities draw to a close, according to Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr.

As reported in The Washington Post, Catoe told Metro board members that if the predictions of riders hold, then “we will see something we’ve never seen before.” 

Metro’s ridership record of 854,638 – set July 11 by crowds attending a Washington National baseball game and a religious event - is expected to double.  To help ease the expected crowding after the swearing-in and the parade, Metro is asking people to think about delaying their return rides by remaining downtown to dine or visit a museum.

According to agency spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein, “it will be sardine crush-load on the way in and sardine crush-load on the way out.”  While Metro is prepared and will use every available train and bus, nonetheless, said Catoe, “you can’t put 800,000-plus people on the rail system all at the same time.”

Think of Metro as the funnel.  No matter how people arrive in the area – by plane, by car, by bus, they still should plan either to walk or to take Metro to view the events.

For example, people arriving from Albany, NY via motor coach tour buses will be traveling to the Washington, DC area – with “area” the operative term.  The U.S. Secret Service is telling all motor coach companies that they cannot drive directly into Washington, DC to deposit their riders, but instead must drop them, where possible, at a Metro station.  In the case of the Albany travelers, they will likely disembark in Baltimore, and then take the train into DC.

Neighboring Virginia and Maryland
Commuter train services in Virginia and Maryland are planning special schedules to carry passengers to the District to help accommodate what are expected to be record-breaking crowds.   As Passenger Transport went to press, it still was not clear whether inauguration goers from Virginia would be able to take Virginia Railway Express trains into the city.  VRE wants to run train service on Inauguration Day, a federal holiday, but it will need extra finances to make it happen.

Officials from DC’s Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, however, are among those hoping the trains will be running.  If VRE does decide to offer service, it will make that information available by early December.  On the other side of the District, Maryland’s MARC commuter train had cut back its holiday operations and other services to try to save $25 million.  For instance, it canceled train service on Veterans Day and the Fridays after Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The Maryland Transportation Authority, which oversees MARC, will now provide a special schedule on Inauguration Day, however, but the details are not yet available.

In the District of Columbia
Metro will open an hour early on Inauguration Day, at 4 a.m., and stay open two hours later, until 2 a.m., on Jan. 21.  Metro is also requesting that area transportation departments set aside bus-only lanes, allowing Metrobuses to carry hundreds of thousands of people from outlying areas to specific drop-off points near the National Mall.

The agency will be selling commemorative paper Farecards, one-day rail passes, and SmarTrip electronic cards that feature Barack Obama, with the words “44th President of the United States” printed along one edge.

Added to the likely potential for massively overcrowded trains and buses, the official D.C. inauguration web site cautions that all parade and event attendees are going to be subject to thorough screenings.  Moreover, the Secret Service, Metropolitan Police Department, U.S. Capitol Police, and other local and federal agencies will be providing a never-before-seen level of security for the inauguration.

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