Metro riders who ventured onto the system for the first weekday of a partial Red Line shutdown Monday were greeted with long lines outside stations and significant delays aboard the private motorcoaches used to replace trains.
As rail service shuttered from Ft. Totten to Silver Spring for a 16-day rebuilding project, scores of riders were caught in lines that wrapped around sidewalks and entire blocks, like at Silver Spring.
At that station, the northern endpoint of the shutdown, commuters fumed. Erin Sigmon, 24, of Silver Spring, who left town for Thanksgiving, had forgotten about the shutdown until late Monday morning. She figured she’d need an extra 15 minutes to commute. Instead, her trip from Silver Spring to Smithsonian stretched more than two hours — compared to the usual 50 minutes.
“I got down there and it was insane,” she said. “The line was wrapped around the block.”
When she finally boarded a shuttle, after about 25 minutes standing in the cold, the bus sat in traffic for more than 40 minutes, she said.
“It was the Ft. Totten express bus but it was not very express,” she said.
Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said the delays resulted from a crash at Eastern and Georgia avenues Monday morning.
“Unfortunately, buses got caught up in the resulting traffic, which led to customers waiting for bus service during the morning commute,” she said. “Once shuttles arrived, customers were able to board and the lines quickly dissipated.”
Ly said Metro put several of its own articulated buses into service to relive the crowding. In all, 40 shuttles were in service, she said.
“The issue was not caused by an insufficient number of buses,” she said.
The agency did not immediately respond to questions concerning whether crowding conditions could be similar for the duration of the shutdown or specify the cost of the private coaches versus normal shuttle operations. It also did not respond to questions about whether any problems were reported with the private buses.
For riders who complained of the long lines, things weren’t much better once aboard the shuttles. One rider tweeted that the two-stop trip from Silver Spring to Ft. Totten took an hour and five minutes, clocking in only minutes faster than the equivalent walk.
Sigmon, who had just begun a health policy new job in recent weeks, said she was lucky her bosses were understanding.
“I was just thinking if I worked in food service, or a store, that could be grounds for firing for some people,” she said.
And Metro’s explanation that the problem resulted from traffic didn’t sit well with some.
The rail shutdown had likely pushed thousands of commuters onto road alternatives, like ridesharing vehicles, and their own cars, making the explanation ring a little like the classic Onion headline: “Urban Planner Stuck in Traffic of Own Design.”
Metro did not immediately provide Monday ridership figures for the shutdown area.