February 2, 2009
D.C. Area Transit Agencies Surpass All Ridership Records; More than 1.5 Million Trips Taken
As hundreds of thousands of people poured into Washington, DC, on Inauguration Day, area public transit agencies more than met this unprecedented transportation challenge. With attendance estimated at 1.8 million—the largest ever on the Washington Mall—three of the region’s public transit agencies reported extremely high ridership. The highest total was set by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which provided nearly 1.5 million trips, including 1.1 million by rail, 423,000 by bus, and 1,721 by MetroAccess paratransit.
Photo by Getty Images
To accommodate all the out-of-town visitors as well as local residents, Metrorail extended its hours of service during the days leading up to the inauguration, operating for 62 of the 72 hours between Jan. 18 and 21.
A Day of Records
This was a day of records.
“Our Metro system wasn’t designed to transport this many people in such a short time, but we did it,” said General Manager John Catoe. “Months and months of planning paid off. Throughout Inauguration weekend, we effectively dealt with record-breaking crowds. On Inauguration Day, our rail ridership surpassed the one million mark.”
Virginia Railway Express, the commuter rail line connecting Northern Virginia with Washington, ran a full slate of 30 trains on Jan. 20, according to spokesperson Mark Roeber. VRE sold 17,500 round-trip tickets for the day, he said, but the trains also provided service to 400 uniformed officers who traveled free, as well as some commuters who had to make their regular trips to work.
“We moved our schedule to accommodate the day’s events,” Roeber said. “I know we carried more riders than we had anticipated.”
In an example of how the area transit systems worked together to support the effort of moving the Inauguration Day crowds, Roeber added that when WMATA faced passenger backlogs at its L’Enfant Plaza station, VRE stepped in and directed riders to its nearby platform. “It got cold very fast, and people were looking for any way they could get out or get relief,” he said. “We immediately got them on board trains.”
Another instance of cross-regional cooperation could be found at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, which is served by MARC commuter rail and MD MTA’s light rail system. In this case, WMATA provided Inauguration Day travelers feeding into BWI with access to the Greenbelt Metrorail station through its regularly scheduled bus route.
In Maryland, demand was so great that the Maryland Transit Administration’s MARC commuter rail service sold out all 38,000 Inauguration Day round-trip tickets by Jan. 9.
WMATA operated Inauguration Day rapid bus service on 23 “Presidential” bus corridors, accounting for 228,000 of the day’s Metrobus rides. Special shuttles implemented to accommodate crowding in the rail system provided 15,000 rides, and 3,000 rides were on supplemental buses serving park-and-ride lots in Maryland and Virginia.
More than 8,000 WMATA employees worked on this day, which included more than 400 Transit Police officers. Also working were 266 volunteer police officers from other departments and 340 volunteer Metro Ambassadors who provided visitor services.
Safety and Security on Public Transit
In preparation for the Inauguration, Metro beefed up its law enforcement capability, with transit officers from all over the country flown in to augment the Metro Transit Police. “We saw an unprecedented level of interest and cooperation from law enforcement agencies across the country,” said Metro’s Chief Michael Taborn. “We were grateful for their assistance, and were excited to have them participate alongside us for this historic occasion.”
One of those officers was Eliot Swainson, a 15-year veteran of the Houston Metro Transit Police Department. Around 9:30 a.m. on Inauguration Day, he saved a woman who had fallen onto the tracks of Metro’s Red Line.
"We are very proud of Officer Swainson for the quick and decisive actions taken in this incident,” said Houston Metro Police Chief Tom Lambert. “Eliot is a true transit police professional and his actions demonstrate his commitment to public safety.”
While hailed as a hero, Swainson took the attention in stride. “As far as the event itself, that’s what we were there for—the safety and security of the patrons and the system,” he said. “That’s essentially what you go to do.”