With two major events expected to bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to Washington this month, Metro officials said Thursday the system will provide rush-hour-level service throughout the day to accommodate the expected crowds.
The system will open at 7 a.m. March 24 for the March for Our Lives gun-control rally and the opening ceremony of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
“We’ll provide as many eight-car trains as we can to deal with the volume,” Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said at a news conference Thursday. “It will be all hands on deck for our staff.”
Wiedefeld said that the agency is planning for the prospect that crowds that could rival the levels seen during the Jan. 21, 2017 Women’s March on Washington, which was Metros’ second-busiest day ever with more than 1 million trips taken.
The transit agency is urging festival-goers and rally attendees to anticipate crowds and preorder a SmarTrip card to be used on the day of the events. Cards can be purchased online at wmata.com/march — they must be purchased by Friday, March 9 to ensure they arrive on-time. They also are available at regional Giant and CVS locations, and at Metro stations.
“Avoid extremely long lines and unnecessary waiting by buying your card in advance and we’ll mail it to your home or office,” Metro said in an advisory to customers. “This is the most important piece of advice for anyone taking Metro to the March for Our Lives event.”
Riders will be prohibited from bringing bicycles, large coolers, “or other oversized items” into stations or onto trains.
Metro will charge off-peak fares throughout the day. Buses will continue to operate on a Saturday schedule, though routes that travel through downtown may be diverted in response to road closures. MetroAccess service also will operate on a Saturday schedule.
Parking lots at Metro stations will charge $2 per vehicle, a result of a recent change to Metro’s parking fee structure — a change that was made, in part, to help the transit agency recoup some of the costs that come with providing extra service during major events like marches and protests.
Still, the agency said it likely will have out-of-pocket costs for overtime pay and extra expenditures it will make to prepare for the march.
Wiedefeld said staff throughout the system will be monitoring crowding at stations and making adjustments to service if necessary. In particular, he said, some downtown stations might have entrances that become exit-only, due to throngs of people pouring out, or down-escalators that are reversed to help expedite the flow of people out of the stations.
“We’re expecting it to be a busy day, and a beautiful day as well,” Wiedefeld said.