Rally for Sanity breaks 19-year Metro Saturday ridership record

Photo courtesy of
‘After the Game’
courtesy of ‘Karon’

If you thought yesterday was a zoo on Metro, you were right. Metro has announced preliminary ridership numbers for yesterday’s rally insanity, and they were through the roof.  825,437 Metrorail trips were taken yesterday by first count, eclipsing the record from the 1991 Desert Storm rally, which drew 786,358 trips.  The stories from Metro yesterday were of a system well past its breaking point, with long lines to enter the stations, and longer lines still to use the farecard machines.

I suspect that Metro could’ve raked it in if they’d decided to charge peak fares yesterday, or to charge for parking at their facilities, which would have helped a system facing serious deficits in their budget.  I would’ve also bet money that Metro could’ve sold boxes and boxes and boxes of $15 SmarTrip cards for $20 apiece if they’d thought about offering them in exchange for exact change at the various stations.  Sadly, Metro did neither, and missed out on a real opportunity to reap benefits in the crunch.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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33 thoughts on “Rally for Sanity breaks 19-year Metro Saturday ridership record

  1. Metro probably had more trips than that. When I left the rally around 2, people were having issues at L’Efant and the Metro manager let people in for free. Then, people got kicked off at the Pentagon stop because of a jammed door. A bunch of people including myself knew you could walk from Pentagon to Pentagon City, and there wasn’t a station manager in sight, so someone opened the “free” gate and some people got out that way.

  2. Respond to increases in demand by raising prices? Entrepreneurial pricing strategies?

    Not our Metro, unfortunately. It wouldn’t have taken a genius to guess that there might be an opportunity yesterday, either.

    On top of that, they decided to do a whole bunch of scheduled maintenance that day, right?

    Sometimes just thinking about Metro makes me sad inside.

  3. Excuse my ignorance, but what constitutes “a trip” on Metro. With the rally crowd estimated at 215,000… how does the Metro trip number go beyond 825,000? I assume that’s combined with regular Saturday ridership… but is it really that high?

  4. The trip count was probably so high because for each person who took the train yesterday to the rally there were at least 2 trips. Plus there were Halloween riders last night headed to parties plus Howard homecoming riders. Plus regular riders. Plus people may have done like my group did and took the train to get food etc while out for the rally so that’s 4 trips apiece for us.

  5. It would have been more had they not been running their usual Saturday schedule, complete with station closures, maintenance delays, and 6 car trains. A lot of people walked, hitchhiked rides, some even decided to drive because the metro was so crazy. I haven’t seen it that nuts since the Inauguration last year.

  6. It’s called math.

    “Average Saturday Metrorail ridership is typically about 350,000.”

    That puts it at about 525,000 more than usual which sounds right for 215,000 with trips to and from the rally plus random extras for going sightseeing/eating.

  7. Also, that mall estimate might be a little under since there were lots of people on the side streets who didn’t even get close to the mall, or, like us, got close to the mall and immediately turned around and left. So, if people who were metro-ing didn’t make it to the mall, that would account for a few extra-thousand trips as well.

    I would also say, it would have been nice if metro were at least running rush hour train schedules at certain points in the day. A lot of people I know just gave up on metro too.

  8. The 215,000 only counts the people who managed to make it onto the mall. Many others didn’t get there in time, or stayed on Pennsylvania Avenue or other nearby streets. Several of my friends only took Metro on the way home, because they couldn’t get on a train for the ride in. I would guess one-way only trips would cancel out many of the 4 ride trips. So clearly lots of people came to the rally, and definitely lots more than to the Beck event in the summer (which had 510,000 metro trips on a day with a typical count of 305,000).

  9. Don’t forget the marathon runners who went to the convention center to pick up their race packets.

  10. I think if Metro had actually been prepared for yesterday, instead of not running additional trains, or single-tracking in many parts of the city, that they could have come a lot closer to Inauguration Day than they did.

  11. You’re complaining that Metro DIDN’T charge its riders in every conceivable way during the rally? This is the same blog that moans and howls every time there’s a fare hike, calling it opportunistic robbery, right?

  12. @Johnny: With deficits looming as large as they are, and fare hikes having ridership consequences, I’m absolutely for doing things like this on rally days when the system is going to be stretched to capacity due to a bunch of people not normally on the system to be using it.

    This will prevent future fare hikes.

  13. Two hours to get in from Rosslyn on Metro, walked to Farragut Sq. to take bus home.

    All Metro had to do was look at facebook numbers to be prepared.

    I agree, numbers could have been even higher.

  14. On October 30th (Saturday night after the rally), I had to wait over 40 minutes for a yellow line train to Virginia at L’Enfant Plaza (between 10:20 PM and 11:15 PM). Since this was a holiday weekend, a very large number of people were waiting to take the train, and the long wait between trains ensured that a large crowd had accumulated on the platform by the time that a train finally arrived. When the yellow line train finally arrived, over half of the cars on the train were out of service and empty, causing the large numbers of riders who had accumulated in the station to crowd into already crowded few cars at the front of the train. There were such a large number of people crowded into the train that I seriously feared that people might be crushed.

    I noticed that the same thing had happened to a green line train that had stopped on the far platform (heading in the other direction) just ten minutes earlier. That train seemed dangerously overcrowded also.

    I will NEVER risk my life by riding metro rail train again. These trains have proven time and time again to have spotty, unreliable service to even the main stations on the line (so there are usually a large number of people waiting for a ride by the time a train finally arrives), and metro seems to have no guidelines on how many people to allow on the trains at one time, nor do they have sufficient working cars to SAFELY accommodate the demand for ridership.

  15. There was also a Breast Cancer rally going on, we rode in on the Metro from New Carollton with a group of them in the morning.

  16. Or Metro could have taken their heads out of their posteriors and realized that this was a major event, and put many more trains on to carry the crowds. They might increase ridership if they didn’t make tourists wait for two hours just to get into the city.


  17. Epic logistical fail by Metro. Reliable media sources provided information way before yesterday as to how many people planned to attend the RTRSAOF event. Metro could have – should have – responded by running more frequent and longer trains. Also, those of us who’ve lived here since the early days of Metro (when base fares were lower) remember when someone in authority at WMATA with half a brain instituted a system for ridership flood days – e.g., July 4 – whereby for a flat fee of $1 one could enter the system and ride, no farecard needed. WMATA could have done the same thing yesterday for a higher fee – I suggested $5 to cover each user’s probable round trip – which people would gladly have paid. If WMATA had done that, they would have eliminated the worst user-unfriendly part of the situation, the ridiculous lines at the farecard machines and exit gates, and they would have made more money overall. Who’s in charge of this kangaroo company?

  18. On a day when the system is at capacity they can’t charge rush-hour fares for off-peak service; it would be seen as gouging.

    Even if they had charged higher fares all day that would have generated maybe $1 per trip on average.

    How would they decide what a “major event” is? If a permit expecting 60k people would be a major event, couldn’t every baseball game be one? Declaring a Beck or Stewart event “major” or not would be akin to adding official recognition of the event’s importance. (and this would, of course, add a few pounds of politics into the mix).

    I also guess, but am not sure, that Metro’s software and hardware would make any one-off changes to the standard fare schedule awkward at best.

  19. The MTA routinely runs more trains, and even offers “super express” 7 trains to Manhattan after Mets games. (Yes, Mets games). It’s WMATA’s job to anticipate heavier than normal usage and run more trains. They open early for events — why not run some extra trains, too?

  20. I disagree w/the numbers coming out on attendance at the Rally to Restore Sanity w/regards to the DC Metro.They are reporting record #s & it doesn’t suprise me.I & thousands of others who attended the Rally never went near the Metro so please think twice about using Metro ridership on 10/30/10 as a reference.We traveled by bus from NYC(not on”Huffington” buses that transported 10,000 fr NYC alone.)We were part of another group of buses that traveled from all over the country put together by two dedicated guys from NYC, Afraz & Numaan.We counted 15 plus states from that group. Don’t forget those who traveled by car.I’d say final #s were closer to 500,000 SANE REASONABLE people.It was refreshing!

  21. @ Pat R. I completely agree with everything you said. I took a bus (greyhound) in as well and never used the Metro along with everyone else on the buses that were attending the rally. Considering all the people, overall the whole day was an epic success for Washington D.C. In my opinion.

  22. A lot of people — myself included — went into the metro (and so were included as “riders”) even though we didn’t ever end up getting on a train. We waited 1.5 hours at the Courthouse station and only saw 2 completely packed trains. My husband and I walked out of the free gate, but most everyone else we saw leave dejectedly went through and paid to exit. I think including the people who just made it as far as the station drove up Metro’s rider number.

  23. I believe that it was up to the rally organizers to request more trains. I remember a rally last summer where people were complaining that WMATA didn’t run enough trains, and WMATA’s response was that the rally organizers didn’t request it.

  24. I don’t see why it is the rally’s fault for not ‘paying’ for extra trains when the increased revenue should have more than covered the incremental costs. WMATA should be smart enough to know when they need to up the service.

    And part of this is brought on by the cry wolf overinflated attendance estimates by Beck and Tea Partiers who miss their goals by 50% on the low side instead of 300% on the high side.

  25. @yellojkt: There isn’t a linear relationship with the increase in trains and the increase in profits. If you look at the Inauguration, there are some interesting stats:


    “Well, I can’t speak for this particular event, but during the Inauguration, Metro ran 17 hours of consecutive rush hour trains. They also ran extra service during the preceding weekend, which had lots of Inaugural events.
    The Inauguration and preceding 3 days cost Metro and additional $5.28M to put on.

    During that same time, Metro received approximately $3M in fares.

    So that means that Inauguration, with all of its additional riders and additional service meant Metro lost about $2M, although they later got some funding from the Feds to pay for at least some of the cost.

    Now, as for the Stewart/Colbert rally, Metro did not provide much additional service, which would mean that their costs were about the same as a normal Saturday. They did have much higher ridership, though. So I suppose it’s possible that this had a positive effect on revenues, but I really don’t know.”

    Matt’s got an awesome point: increasing service costs a lot of money that isn’t made up for with weekend fare costs. Organizers of a lot of local events request, and pay for, additional train service on a regular basis.

  26. That 825 vs the normal 305 is even more impressive when you consider all of the usual metro riders on a Sat. going to museums, the zoo, etc. who wisely decided to take a pass because of the expected crowds. Put another way, 110% of the increase can fairly be attributed to the rally. This was not the case for the Beck rally. I didn’t change my plans that day. I doubt that others did either.

  27. It’s not just that 825,437 is far more than a normal Saturday, it’s also far more than almost all weekdays. The last time that Metro had more than 825,437 trips was June 23. And I would imagine that 825,437 is the top 30-35 ridership days in Metro’s history (the info I could find online only listed the top 25).

    It’s almost hard to believe that so many people managed to get on a train given that they were running a mostly normal Saturday schedule.

  28. Tried to get on metro to go to the rally (15 of us) lines to buy tickets were TOOOOO long. We decided to take our cars and then taxi to downtown. THANK you DC we had a good time. WISH metro was more prepared, did not get a chance to ride the Metro. RALLY was wonderful and well worth my time.

  29. I guess I find this all funny. We took Metro to and from the rally with no problems.

    There was a line when we got there at 10 AM that went from the Greenbelt metro station and wound for a half to 3/4 of a mile through the parking lot. They were all lined up to buy metro passes at a table that had been set up.

    We walked right into the station, stood in line at the machine for five minutes, and got seats on the first train out. From parking to leaving the station was maybe 15 minutes.

    After the rally we got some dinner, then went to the stop in the Verizon center, where the cops were preventing people from going down into the station because of the crowds. We said fuck that, walked a few blocks to Navy Memorial, hopped on the train and grabbed seats, and watched as people tried to cram themselves in at the Verizon Center stop.

    Metro both ways, no waiting in lines other than about a five minute wait for the farecard machine.

  30. I don’t think the issue was the cost to the consumer — I certainly would have been willing to pay peak fares, or more, if the system had worked.

    But it didn’t. After three completely full trains passed by at Courthouse, my friends and me ended up taking the train out to Vienna and back. It took two hours, but at least we finally made it into DC.

    On the way back, we just walked. It took the same amount of time.

    I’ll admit I’m ignorant of how Metro is funded, but maybe they should be prepared to take an occasional loss. There’s this thing called “reputational risk,” and Metro certainly failed there. My two friends from out of town vowed they would never take Metro again.

    Granted, the loss of potential income from two tourists is insignificant compared to the revenue from regular riders, but multiply that by a few hundreds of thousands of potentially lost customers.

    Metro could have done better.