Tuesday, November 25, 2008

15 Hours of Rush Hour Service for Inauguration

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, or Metro, will face one of its toughest tests next January 20th. The inauguration of Barack Obama, is likely to bring a record number of visitors to the city for this special event, but how many, no one is sure. There are wild estimates of up to 4 million visitors and the odds of Metro breaking the daily ridership record are strong. To that end, the agency is starting early with a special website dedicated to the inauguration already. There are plans for special fare cards and Smartrip cards (pictured) to commemorate the event. Special fare cards are not unprecedented; the Pope's visit and opening of Nationals' Park both garnered special cards earlier this year.

Here are some of the more unique transit attributes of the inaugural weekend:

***15 hours of rush hour service: Metro rail will open at 4:00 AM on January 20th and run at rush hour intervals until 7:00 PM. How they will do this, I have no idea. The staff and equipment will have to be taxed to the maximum. I feel like they can barely sustain rush hour service on a normal weekday, so running cars every 3-8 minutes all day seems like a monumental challenge. In a surprise move, only off peak hours will be charged all day. Nice. Also, Tuesday service will be extended until 2:00 AM, January 21.

***Stations closed: As anticipated, the Navy-Archives Station will be closed. The security barrier will likely extend north along 7th Street NW beyond the station. Also, not surprisingly, the Mall entrance of the Smithsonian station will be closed. The Independence Ave entrance will be open, but for the love of pete, avoid this station all together if you can.

***Free parking!: Well, parking at Metro anyway. Parking at Metro stations is free from opening on Saturday morning until closing on Tuesday night. For all you out of towners driving in for the day, get to those end of line stations early, they will fill up within minutes on Tuesday January 20.

***Buses will operate less frequently: In either a genius or boneheaded move, Metrobuses will operate on a Saturday (reduced service) schedule on January 20th. The practical me sees the logic: roads will be clogged getting into downtown and there are major closures in the downtown core. Less buses make sense. However the other practical me says, get those people on buses and at least get them close to downtown. Not everyone is within walking distance of the festivities or wants to ride like a sardine on the train. I want to know how this one plays out. I was hoping to take the 42 that day, but we'll see.

*** Extra security: Metro station restrooms will be closed on January 20th, so go at home! Also expect to see TSA agents and their dogs on trains and buses throughout. Expect many escalators to be turned off, for crowd flow reasons, which I'm not sure I understand.

I guess the themes of the day will be patience and flexibility. At this point, know one knows how many people will show up, what the weather will be like or how capable Metro will be. Some of that will get sorted out as we approach the date. If all else fails, watch it on TV. After its all said and done, your couch may have the best seats in the house.