The Metro subway's new Blue Line from National Airport to RFK Stadium was a smash hit on its opening yesterday as an estimated 102,000 commuters and festive joyriders jammed the trains.
The Metro machinery responded with assorted annoyances, two outright train breakdowns including one in the heart of the evening rush hour, and systemwide problems with Farecard, the magnetically encoded fare ticket that people stood in long lines to buy.
But even on the first day of the subway's operation as a truly regional system linking the District of Columbia and Virginia, its potential impact could be clearly seen.
At least a few thousand people left their cars outside downtown and rode the train to work. Thousands of others went downtown by subway to eat and shop on their lunch hours and others brought unaccustomed life to the concrete canyons of Rosslyn and Crystal City. Many air travelers used the train to get to National Airport from downtown Washington.
However, on the day of the Metro system's greatest single success during the 7 years, 6 months and 22 days since its construction was started, its recurring financial troubles threatened a new political crisis that, if unresolved, could shut down the system.
Montgomery County Executive James P. Gleason, who is angry because he feels U.S. Transportation Secretary Brock Adams has reneged on a promise to extend Metro rail from Silver Spring to Wheaton, withheld a $3 million payment owed to the Metro operating account yesterday.
Other major Washington area jurisdictions, mostly in Virginia, have said in contracts that if everyone doesnt pay, each of them won't pay. Yesterday was the day that operating subsidies for the first three months of fiscal year 1978 were to be deposited with Metro by those jurisdictions.
That problem was forgotten for most of yesterday in the excitement of the subway's extension to 17 miles of track and 24 stations in two jurisdictions. Total strangers conversed excitedly about their experiences, both good and bad, as overloaded trains limped out of mid-city stations.
Metro was a victim of its own success. So many people wanted to ride that the train simply couldn't accommodate them. Minutes were lost from schedules (See METRO, A4, Col. 1> as people squeezed in and out of packed cars.
Sometimes the dors would not close tightly - an old Metro subway problem - and the train operator asked, over the public address system, "Will the guy in the third car who has his fingers in the door please get his fingers out of the doors?" The man apparently complied, and the train surged forward.
At a farecard vending machine in Bosslyn, where people stood in long lines all day, one woman held everything up for minutes while she deposited 50 dimes - $5 - machine.
Frustration was not the sole property of those who stood behind her, however. For some yesterday, the Metro subway was simply too expensive or too inexplicable. For others, the increase in the District of Columbia rush hour Metro bus far from 40 cents to 50 cents came as a shock, as did the new knowledge that they could no longer transfer free from Metrobus to the train.
Howard Colbert, a 25-year-old steam fitter who works in a D.C. Municipal Center at 300 Indiana Ave. NW, rode an Anacostia - to - Friendship Heights bus right by the transfer station for the subway yesterday. "Why," he asked, "should I spend 80 cents when I can get on the bus and keep on going?"
On Metro's Red Line, at the Rhode Island Avenue station, commuters who have been transferring from Mertrobus to the subway for a year now poured into the station yesterday bolding their transfers and expecting, as usual, to just go right on through.
But yesterday they had to buy farecards. Their transfers were no longer good. The lines at the station's two farecard vending machines got longer. "This is the damnedest thing I've ever seen" said 41-year-old Roosevelt Hinton, a construction worker who lives in the District. I bought a transfer and it's no good . . . That's 50 cents gone to hell!"
Metro workers then began handing out pre-encoded $1 farecards. Commuters dug into their purses and wallets for dollar bills and swarmed through the gates.
Leado Grear, the Station attendant, said later that "I've been trying to take them to the farecard machine for two weeks to buy their cards before today, but they wouldn't do it."
Riders stood in long farecard lines at other stations around the city, although a large number of people had prepurchased their cards. Metro employees were pulled from their offices and sent to the stations to help people with the farecard machinery.
They encouraged people to buy more than a one-trip fare, and thus reduce lines in the future. Farecards can be purchased for any amount between 40 cents and $20. After each ride, the amount of the fare used is deducted from the card and teh balance left in the card is printed on its face.
Metro General Manager Theodore Lutz sold 100 pre-encoded $1 farecards himself at the conclusion of a somewhat comical inaugural ceremony for Metro at the L'engant plaza station, which has one entrance in the courtyard of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Recorded music played an people milled around the courtyard fountain there at noon before Federal Highway Administration officials executive director Lester Lamm, offered an offical greeting toMetro.
Lutz, who was a high DOT official in the Ford Administration, commented on the appropriateness of the highway administration welcoming mass transit, then turned to cut the ribbon to the escalator to the subway.
Nobody had remembered to bring a ribbon, so Bill Johnson's tie was used instead. Bill Johnson is a public affairs officer in the highway department. Then Lutz rode to the subway and found a long line of at least 100 people in front of the farecard machines. He went to work himself selling the pre-encoded cards.
Lutz and top operations officials will meet today to discuss the first day's meet today to discuss the first day's run before the Blue Line goes to work again on July 4th from noon to midnight. There will be no farecard problems that day, however, because 50 cents in a barrel will be the price of a ride throughout the system.
Metro was hoping yesterday to run four-car trains with a headway (spacing) of seven minutes. That broke down to 10 minutes late in the morning and never did recover completely, to maintain that headway: it would take 14 trains to reduce it by another minute.
"We can't go to six-car trains or more trains immediately," Lutz said. "We just don't have the cars. We might be able to add some in a few weeks. This was also the first day and we don't know that we'll get this kind of crowd every day. We'll have to wait and see."
The big problems yesterday were centered on the Metro Center station the junction of the Red and Blue Lines, and radiated outward to the downtown and new Southwest stations.
Crowded trains ran in all four direction through the noon hour and headways began to deterioriate to 12 or 15 minutes in some cases. The worse came around 4:30 p.m., the peak of the eveing rush hour. A platform full of people waited aboug 20 minutes from a train at Metro Center: one finally came, but the public address announced that it was "out of service."
Commuters yelled at the Metro people. "It already takes me 13 minutes longer to get here because of this train," one women yelled. "If we've got to use it, get it in shape."
The problem was three stations back down the line, at L'Enfant Plaza, where the train everybody was waiting for was stuck. "I can't move, I have a crash load, some of you are going to have to get off for the next train," the operator announced.
Finally the train creaked on the Smithsonian Station, where it stopped for another five minutes. Then it moved on to Federal Triangle, where the operator announced that the train was disabled and asked everybody to get off. Some stayed, some left, and the train moved on.
Another train was backed in on the opposite rail to clear out the downtown load. It was all over in less than 45 minutes, but it was irritating and frustrating for commuters during that time.
The trains regained their normal headways into the evening, and shortly before the 8 p.m. closing time they were still running with seated loads and some standees through the downtown stations.
The other big breakdown occurred in the early morning hours - before 7 a.m. - on the old Red Line at Farragut North Station. Again, trains were run on the reverse rail to clear commuters.
One passenger, traveling to National Airport, was still unhappy when he got there. 'Fifty-five minutes from Dupont Circle," he hollered to a reporter. "Write that down." And a woman reported that she missed two planes to Buffalo because of the subway tie-ups.
One situation that frightened riders is a regular, unavoidable and perfectly safe occurrence in the new Blue Line. Some trains leaving Stadium-Armory are forced to run down the "wrong" rail until just before Eastern Market, where they can switch over. Oncoming trains are held at Eastern Market. But from the front car of the train leaving the Stadium, it appears that a collision is possible with the waiting train. Passengers can see the headlights of the train, but not the switch.
That problem will remain until the Blue Line is extended to a switching yard at New Carrollton.
Many of the riders, on the subway yesterday were joyriders, nothing else. Many others were habitual users of Metrobus and were simply taking advantage of the speed and convenience of rail. There were also a suprising number of first-day automobile commuters who apparently switched to the train.
The only new parking lot readily accessible to the Metro system is the Armony lot near the Stadium-Armony station, and 1,200 places were full by 9 a.m. Cars were spilling out into the surrounding lots.
That was despite the fact that there is still considerable construction in the area, and the nearest Metro station portal was closed between 6 and 7 a.m. because the farecard machines were not working.
Deborah Warren, who lives in Landover and works in the Department of Health Education and Welfare, parked in a far corner of the Armony lot but was not displeased despite a long walk to the subway. "I'd rather walk than pay $42 a month just to get parking near my office," she said. "I have more time to walk than I have money to spend." The Armony lot was free yesterday, but will start charging $1 for all-day parkers next week.
As Arlington County officials expected, a number of commuters were dropped off at the Pentagon City station by their spouses. That station, although sitting in the middle of a field, is very convenient from Shirley Highway.
William A. Baker from Dale City drove 28 miles to Pentagon City, found a parking place, then jumped on the subway. He said he will save 2 1/2 commuting hours a week and 80 to 90 miles of driving.
Pedestrians also used the Pentagon City station, located as it is a long block apartments. Many of them ignored a new asphalt sidewalk and took a shortcut through the brush and the weeds across the open field.
That was part of positive side yesterday. The financial difficulties came into focus late in the day when Montgomery County Executive Gleason announced that he was withholding the county's Metro subsidy payment.
Gleason wants a guarantee from Secretary Adams that DOT will provide federal funding for an extension of the Rhode Island line between Silver Spring and Wheaton. Adams has ordered an engineering analysis of that line to determine if costs can be cut; although he said he thinks the line is "positive," he refused to give Gleason an iron-clad guarantee of federal support.
Gleason acted without the County Council. "The financial officer works for me," he said.
Other jurisdictions also did not pay yesterday, although there is no firm indication yet that their actions constitute a formal withholding. Arlington and Alexandria have both said they would not pay unless all "major" jurisdictions paid.
Joseph S. Wholey, chairman of the Arlington COunty Board nad vice chairman of the Metro Transit Authority, said the money question "has to be resolved fairly soon . . . Obviously we can't run the system without money."
Wholey and Lutz were not anxious to predict the closing of Metro, however. "We'll have a chance obviously to talk about this," Lutz saod.
Even withs its problem yesterday, Metro won some friends. Richard Loiselle, a civilian engineer for the Navy who lives in Hyattsville, said that "lot of us will be looking for houses near Metro stops. I expect support for tye system will build . . ."
And the biggest attraction on the new line yesterday was the escalator at the Rosslyn station - at 210 feet, 8 inches, it is second in length only to one in Leningrad. I'm scared to death," said Ingrid Ifwerstrom. a legal secretary. "I told my boss that if I was late for work, he could find me at the top of the escalator in Rosslyn." But in a minute, she was on her way.