By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 21, 2008
On Inauguration Day, Metro expects to transport the largest crowds in its 32-year history, as many as 1.6 million people. And even though the transit system will be running unprecedented rush-hour service for 15 consecutive hours, people should expect enormously crowded rail stations, jammed trains and delays of up to "a couple hours" when daytime festivities end, Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. said yesterday.
If predictions that at least 1 million people will attend the activities hold true, "we will see something we've never seen before," Catoe told board members as he outlined the agency's preliminary plans for Jan. 20.
The bus and rail systems are planning to carry double Metro's rail ridership record of 854,638, set July 11 by crowds attending a Washington Nationals baseball game and a religious conference.
To ease crunches expected after the swearing-in and the parade, Metro is asking people to consider delaying return rides by staying downtown for lunch, a movie or a visit to a museum.
Although the agency is prepared and will use "every available vehicle," Catoe said, it will take time to process everyone through fare gates and onto the trains. "You can't put 800,000-plus people on the rail system all at the same time," he said.
"It will be sardine crush-load on the way in and sardine crush-load on the way out," agency spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said.
Metro will open an hour early Inauguration Day, at 4 a.m., and will stay open two hours later, until 2 a.m. Jan. 21. The transit agency will run continuous peak service from opening until 7 p.m., which means that during those 15 hours, trains will be arriving every 2 1/2 minutes at heavily used downtown stations.
On Inauguration Day, off-peak fares will be charged all day. Metro charges off-peak fares on all weekends and holidays.
Metro is also asking area transportation departments to set aside bus-only lanes that would allow Metrobuses to ferry hundreds of thousands of people from outlying areas to drop-off points near the Mall, he said.
As in past inaugurations, the Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter Station on the Green and Yellow lines will be closed, as will the Mall entrance for the Smithsonian Station. The station's Independence Avenue entrance will be open.
Restrooms at all 86 stations will be closed; portable toilets will be located outside. And many stations will be turning off escalators for safety.
Parking at Metro's nearly 60,000 spaces will be free for the public; the agency is determining how many spaces will be set aside for charter buses and how much they will be charged.
The agency will be selling special commemorative paper Farecards, one-day rail passes and SmarTrip electronic cards that riders will be able to buy and use in the days leading up to, during and after the inauguration.
A special $10 SmarTrip card featuring a smiling Barack Obama, with the words "44th President of the United States" stripped along one edge, will be available online and at Metro sales outlets in early January. Metro was able to order only 35,000 cards because of the long lead time needed by the German manufacturer. But the plastic cards have no value; riders will still need to add value at a Metro station fare machine to pay for trips.
Catoe said Metro is looking for other vendors to make more commemorative cards.
By Christmas, riders will also be able to buy commemorative Farecards at all Metro fare vending machines. These will include 3 million to 5 million special one-day rail passes featuring the same Obama photo. The passes will cost $7.80, the regular price, and will be valid throughout the four-day weekend.
Metro is encouraging travelers to buy them in advance.
Agency officials said they do not know how much the extra service will cost, and no extra funds were set aside in the budget. Typically, extra service costs are shouldered by the group asking for the service.
"We're counting on the federal government to pay for the late closing," said Candace Smith, a Metro spokeswoman. And the other extra service? "We're certainly going to ask them."
Beginning this afternoon, Metro will have a special inaugural Web site, http://Wmata.com.