Where Do You Park 10,000 Charter Buses?

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Transportation planners for President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration say an estimated 10,000 charter buses will arrive in the Washington area for the event, posing what they say would be an unprecedented logistical nightmare.

The estimate is based on bookings, queries from operators and projections of crowd size from D.C. officials, according to Eron Shosteck, a senior vice president of the American Bus Association, which represents 800 independent bus operators. That number does not include smaller buses or passenger vans organized by churches and other groups.

The sheer size of the charter bus contingent, carrying as many as a half-million people, has an enormous cascading effect on the rest of transportation planning. Widespread street closures downtown will prevent charter buses from dropping passengers off at events, so officials need to figure out where buses will park. The parking locations, in turn, will affect where and how many people squeeze on to packed Metro trains.

City officials say the number of buses could exceed 10,000. More than 5,000 passenger carrier companies with more than 23,000 vehicles have interstate operating authority within 1,000 miles of Washington, from Maine to east of the Mississippi to Miami, according to City Administrator Dan Tangherlini. The city's call center staff began contacting hundreds of bus companies over the weekend to ask about bookings, he said.

By the end of the week, Tangherlini hopes a statistical sampling will come up with "what percentage of that 23,000 number" is heading to Washington, he said.

"It's best in planning for this event to try to plan for bigger than anything we've planned for before," he said.

Officials are estimating that 2 million to 4 million people will attend the inauguration.

Metro can't accommodate everyone, so officials also have to prepare for others to walk to events or set up shuttle bus service from outlying areas to downtown.

In addition to traditional parking venues, including RFK Stadium and FedEx Field, organizers have identified more than 100 parking locations for charter buses in the region, including shopping malls and college campuses. Charter buses don't fit inside parking garages, so they need to be on surface lots.

Visitors could be shuttling in from as far away as Six Flags America in Bowie and the racetrack at Laurel Park. Closer-in spots under consideration include Wolf Trap in Vienna and Arlington National Cemetery. Officials are also looking at the Carter Barron Tennis Center, and East Potomac Park and Hains Point as well as parking around Nationals Park.

Bus-only lanes on major thoroughfares have been suggested as a way to speed shuttle service through traffic. But that raises additional complications: The city and Metro don't have the staff to police intersections along say, Connecticut Avenue, to enforce the rules.

"Finding a big piece of tarmac to park buses isn't the main issue," Tangherlini said. "Getting people from that chunk of pavement to where they want to be -- that's where the big issue is going to be."

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