Jon Stewart Rally Pushes Metro to the Limit

by ARLnow.com November 1, 2010 at 8:10 am 4,407 72 Comments

Saturday’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, hosted by Comedy Central personalities Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert helped Metro set a Saturday ridership record with 825,437 Metrorail trips taken.

But while setting the record may sound like a positive development for the beleaguered Metro system, those who actually took Metrorail before and after the rally told tales of overcrowded trains and stations.

It was so bad after the rally that some local residents decided to return to Arlington on foot rather than brave the “zoo” at the Metro stations near the mall.

To give you an idea of how crowded it was, check out this video from the Rosslyn Metro station before the rally.

Flickr pool photo by Christaki

  • MikeyinCrystalC

    Another reason to love Arlington. Skipped Metro all together and walked across 14th St. Bridge to and from the rally. On a side note, it must have been a record day for the Capital Bikeshare as well, since I had a ton of those red bikes pass me.

    • KB

      Agreed. It was a beautiful day, and those who live in North Arlington and Crystal City/Pentagon should have and could have walked or rode bikes over. I live in Ballston and walked! We saw people getting on buses at the Ballston station toward Vienna so they could head to the end of the orange line to get on! Crazy-town. Did we learn nothing from the 2008 Inauguration?

    • Andrew

      We walked from Rosslyn to Georgetown and took Capital Bikeshare bikes the rest of the way. Great day for a walk/ride. Metro and Circulator buses that went by did not look crowded. Those options might work for some for the next event.

  • Runaway Train

    I attended the rally and Metro was an absolute nightmare, people screaming to let them off the train. From the different stations I used, Metro had no one helping on the platforms or ticket machines.
    The lines for some of the ticket machines were over 100 people long. They had to close Achieves metro station for a time due to the volume.
    Another example of Metro’s inability to handle volume. It did not appear that the number of trains were increased and it was operating on a normal weekend schedule.

    • Lou

      They don’t have the money to “staff up” for big weekend events like that. Same issue with running more trains. No money.

      • Let’s Be Free

        Metro has plenty of money — you know all those dollars WMATA has squirreled away by running up $1.5 billion in unfunded retirement liabilities. That money must be somewhere, may be in this pocket, or under that mattress. Oh well.

      • Texas Wahoo

        How about forcing the entities that want to host these big events to put in the money in order to get the permit?

    • anon

      The organization putting on the event is supposed to request extra service. Blame actually falls on comedy central, not metro, for the lack of rush hour service.

    • kc

      I got to Rosslyn station shortly after noon and a new blue line train was being brought online with no one on it. So at least some extra service appeared to be added though clearly not enough.

  • LP

    Let’s also talk about how ATT’s network (and possibly others) completely failed – calls wouldn’t go through, webpages wouldn’t load, text messages wouldn’t go out or would be received 2+ hours later.

    You would think that with a planned event, companies (ATT and Metro) and cities (Washington, D.C.) would be able to open up traffic lanes, bring in COW’s and other devices to ease the burden, but no. God help DC (or any other major city) if an actual terror event occurs, no one will be able to leave the city nor make a phone call.

    • RestonRunner86

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who was thinking this. I had AT&T and was unable to text or call anyone, either. It was only a minor inconvenience at the rally (i.e. being unable to rendezvous as planned with friends), but what if a bomb had gone off or something at the rally? Loved ones would have no way to contact or reach one another, especially if they had been separated in the ensuing pandemonium. The inability of Metro AND cell carriers in DC to handle volume does show just how ill-prepared our city would be to handle a major emergency. There are 600,000 people living in DC. There was only 1/4 of that number (150,000) at the rally. If 150,000 people causes transit and cell service to fail, then imagine what would happen with 600,000!

      • DudeGuy

        I believe the final “count” of people at the rally was 250,000.

        I went to the gym, watch some soccer and read a book… glad I did not go to this mess. I was talking to a couple people Saturday night about it and they said it was so packed and when they got there they could not see or hear anything so they just went to have lunch downtown and waited till everyone was gone.

        • RestonRunner86

          I suppose I was a lucky one. I got there just before 11 AM and ended up probably about 20 rows of people behind a TV screen near dead-center on the Mall. I was surrounded by very courteous people who were a delight to talk to. It was a great time. My concerns are just the “what if” ones. If Metro, AT&T, and others all dropped the ball, then imagine if there really HAD been an emergency. It just makes you wonder.

          • DudeGuy

            I wouldn’t really call anyone going to this thing “lucky one” XD

        • anon

          I went to the rally and I had a blast!

    • Skeptical


      Clearly I’m not up to speed on an acronym but I have this demented vision of a long line of Holsteins, each carrying two or three people as they file across Memorial Bridge.

    • Arlingtonian

      I have Verizon and it completely failed also. No one I was with (mostly Verizon, some AT&T) could text or call anyone. Stupidly I still left my phone on and so my battery was about done by the time the rally was.

  • PurpleFlipFlops

    What was the point of this rally again?

    Oh wells, I had a great Saturday in the Commonwealth.

    • RestonRunner86

      As someone who has become increasingly disillusioned with how the media in this country continues to pander to extremist fringe groups that serve only to polarize the moderate mainstream this was MY opportunity to say “STOP!!!” Life is too short to always be angry over things you can’t change. The media continues to instill fear into the American public, and fear continues to drive us apart.

      • PurpleFlipFlops
        • Maria

          That was satire.

      • Darwin

        So when liberals spent 8 years painting Bush as Hitler it was “dissent is patriotic”, now that conservatives dare use the first amendment we have to have a rally because these people are tearing America apart?

        • Maria

          A) I seem to recall many liberals being called “un-American” and unpatriotic by conservatives during that time, so double standards work both ways, so to speak.

          B) The rally was to draw speculation to the skewed focus on extreme views on BOTH sides of the political spectrum, not just conservatives (Keith Olbermann *and* Glenn Beck, “Obama is Hitler” *and* “Bush is Hitler,” for example).

        • Maria

          Um, draw *attention* to, not speculation. Yay, Monday.

  • G

    Why would anyone even try to take the train from Rosslyn? They’re already so close to the mall. Took me 15 min to bike to the mall from Shirlington.

    • PurpleFlipFlops

      Agreed 100%.

      If I were anywhere on the R-B corridor or in Pentagon City/Crystal City I would have planned on walking to begin with.

  • shriley

    people need to quit picking on Metro. They aren’t in the business of providing transportation.
    They are in the business of paying political favoritism to board members (Zimmie) and the unions (jobs).
    Admit it folks. It is not a transit system. It is all pork.

    • el fat kid


      • shirley

        yeah. jobs are pork. bus drivers making $135,000 a year because of overtime because the union won’t let metro hire more drivers. but to make $135,000 a driver must work 60-70 hours a week. that is safe.
        yeah. bus service is pork. Metro can’t wait to get in on the endless subsidy to put overpriced trolley cars on an overprice line on columbia pike.

      • el fat kid

        ugg. if your going to throw out an insult at least understand the terms you are using…

        i assume you mean wasteful spending and that is not synonymous w/ the term “pork”. if a bus driver is making $135,000/yr, yes that is ridiculous but it’s not pork and i’d be very surprised to see any evidence your claim.

        • el fat kid

          *you’re. i’ve been staring at computer screens for way too many days in a row.

  • DT

    I have a hard time feeling bad for people who get their politics from comedians. I just hope they are still stuck on the metro Tuesday and can’t vote for Moran.

    • charlie

      at least they are SMART comedians. Not sure Glenn Beck can hold a candle to either of them.

      • PikeHoo

        Admittedly, Glenn Beck is also a former drug and alcohol addict.

  • TAllen

    I thank God I had a fare card with $3 on it when I got to the EFC Metro station. The line to buy cards seemed to be two blocks long. Then we had to wait 4 trains to get one that had enough room for two more people. Trains that were coming 15-20 minutes apart. People on the platform were saying ‘Surely, Metro has extra trains on.’ Apparently not. Still, we were on the Mall by 11am, and had a great day.

    • RestonRunner86

      I, too, couldn’t believe they didn’t have more trains running or more 8-car trains running. Such is Metro.

    • anon

      FYI – event organizers are in charge of arranging and paying for extra service, Metro does not spontaneously make these decisions. MCM paid to open the metro early; sports teams arrange for late night metros, and the inauguration funds paid for extra service that day.

  • Tony Perkins

    See, if they had the new station entrance open at Rosslyn, they could’ve crowded even more people into the station.

  • jan

    Metro wasn’t pushed to the limit. It was pushed beyond the limit. At noon in Ballston more people were exiting the station than entering. When I approached the jammed platform I could see why. Then, an announcement was made that trains were not running because of an unidentified package at Archives. While I gave up, I overheard others talk about driving down.

    Regardless, I am delighted that the rally was such a success.

  • Katie

    Metro could charge extra on days like these and increase service. It’s called planning ahead.

    • Lou

      I really wish they had proposed that, just to hear the uproar from people screaming that it was unfair to everybody using Metro that day. Because they would be right.

    • PikeHoo

      Technically, it’s called revenue or yield management. The airlines have been utilizing this revenue maximizing technique since deregulation. While it’s not a bad idea, I’m sure there are a laws against variable pricing for public transportation systems.

      • TGEoA

        Metro already has variable pricing. Prices go up during rush hours.

        • PikeHoo

          Sorry, but rush hour prices aren’t variable, they’re published fixed fares for certain times of the day. The WMATA does not dynamically adjust their rush hour fares upwards or downwards on a whim for increased metro travel during special events or decreased metro travel during rush hour on a holiday, respectively.

    • RestonRunner86

      I would have GLADLY paid more in exchange for better service. I was at the West Falls Church station waiting in a huge line (WITH a SmartTrip card already) because there were no employees there to handle crowd control. I scurried up on the left of the crowd, thinking they were all just waiting to buy fare cards, but then the turnstiles were all surrounded by the mob, so I thought better of it and returned to the back. When I got to the front of the line I realized there WAS a turnstile available and the crowding was thanks to people who had just purchased their tickets waiting for others in front of the turnstiles. What a mess! Even MOVIE THEATERS anticipate mobs and rope off orderly queue lines to keep things running smoothly and efficiently. Apparently having a few queue lines (one leading to a turnstile for SmarTrip Card holders, one leading to a turnstile for people who already had a fare card, and several others each leading to a ticketing machine) was too “intelligent” for Metro. Apparently running more 8-car trains was beyond their control. Apparently they couldn’t call in extra staff that day (using the higher fares to MORE than account for the added costs).

  • JamesE

    I find myself taking a taxi more and more since I don’t enjoy waiting 45 minutes for a train on the weekend. Also I do enjoy the random slamming on the brakes and other jarring events ever since they went full manual control.

    • Sam

      If waiting 45 minutes makes that much of a dent in someone’s life and is the difference between being okay and totally sucking, then perhaps that person shouldn’t live in a major metropolitan area.

      • JamesE

        Yes Sam I should move since I do not enjoy waiting long periods of time for a train to arrive.

      • anon

        Or that person can just pay for a cab and not move.

      • Josh

        45 minutes is totally unacceptable… that’s approaching the frequency of shuttle flights to NYC…

  • Darwin

    In the last 8 years I’ve seen the metro service steadly get worse while becoming more expensive. I can metro to my office but I drive everyday because it takes almost exactly half the time and half the cost!

    • sure

      can you tell me what car you own and type of fuel – i would like to figure out how to avoid the time and cost of metro. Pretty sure that my car insurance alone is more expensive than a month of taking the metro, so I must be doing something wrong.

      • Westover

        You are driving too expensive of a car, or are too bad of a driver to get decent insurance rates. I have done the math, and while I have free parking that does not get factored in, I save about 40% by driving rather than taking the Metro to work.

  • BoredHouseWife

    I drove. Paid 7 bucks to park. Had a great time, with awesome people. Everyone was nice and polite.

  • Suburban Not Urban

    Wish I had taken a picture of the jammed parking lot and side streets at EFC, with a line for 2 blocks – to show to the board why we need parking at EFC metro.

  • Jane Render

    I took the Metro from Pentatgon City at about 10:00 am on Saturday and it was a complete horror story. There wwere at least 300 people on line to buy tickets. I had a SMART card and was able to get through, but the platform was dangerously crowded. Then there was the same old story – people on the Metro refusing to move to the middle of the train. These selfish jerks caused a lot of heartache. I would have been better off just driving into my office and parking – everyone who did that had happy stories. There was onstreet parking all day down toward the bridge. Metro was wrong, wrong, wrong for not seeing to it that there were more cars running. As soon as the situation became apparent, they should have called out more trains. What they did was stupid and dangerous. I’m only surprised that more people didn’t get hurt in the crush. I read about the L’Enfant story and the escalator – when I was going up a few hours before that happened, I yelled at people to stand to the right – this was a huge problem – there were people trying to get to work and go about their lives and they were blocked by people who had no idea how to take the Metro or use it. Metro could have called in more service people and made more announcements telling people what to do.

    • anon

      You should be complaining to comedy central – the organization in charge of an event that needs extra metro service is supposed to request and pay for that service. MCM does it. Sports teams in the area do it.

      I’m not a huge fan of metro – but this was not their fault. The event organizers should have followed proper procedure to ensure adequate metro service.

      • Lou

        I read elsewhere that the organizers were in discussions with WMATA, but declined to pay for extra service.

        • anon

          Thanks – I had not heard that extra information.

      • Puzzled

        Anon – or anyone else with Metro knowledge – I’ve been puzzling over Anon’s comment that Comedy Central should have paid for the extra service. Events like this (short duration high volume) would seem like money makers for Metro since the marginal costs of adding additional service would be very, very low. Metro has huge fixed costs – they are already paying to have the stations open, escalators running, etc – so to add extra capacity they are only paying for the train operators and operating costs like electricity. You would think that each additional paying passenger during an event like this where trains are packed should cover the marginal operating costs and be profitable to Metro. So why isn’t that the case? Why would Metro be asking event organizers to pay for service?

        I have no idea what Metro’s cost structure looks like but a quick back of the envelope calculation for running more 8 car trains goes something like this:

        People per train car 125
        Cars per train 8
        Cost per ticket $4
        Total Revenue per trip $4,000

        Trips per 9 hour shift (during event) 5
        Total Revenue over 9 hour shift $20,000

        Additional Metro Personnel per train 8
        Shift length 9
        Labor Cost per hour 100
        Total Labor Costs per shift $7,200

        Marginal costs per passenger $1
        Passengers per train 1000
        Additional Marginal costs $1,000

        Total Additional Costs $8,200
        Total Revenue $20,000
        Diff = 11,800 Profit

        I’m sure the actual economics are more complicated, but can someone explain why Metro would be asking event organizers to pony up big money? And why they wouldn’t be jumping at the chance to capture all of the additional riders during large events like the Rally?

        • Westover

          The added service paid for by event planners is usually bus service that does not have the same returns, but you make an excellent point with numbers to back it up. Unfortunately the tracks have a finite capacity so they can’t just add as many trains as they want or even need.

        • Suburban Not Urban

          +1 Puzzled, you got the method if not the numbers right. Makes sense.

        • Lou

          I read somewhere that they generally do not make money for running extra service. I forget the numbers, but using the Inauguration as an example, they spent X for extra service, and revenue was 2/3(X). It just does not work out.

          • Westover

            Add to that, there is a Federal Law now that prohibits municiple taxpayer owned transit to be used for things like sporting events when there are business that could provide the service, which is why you no longer have the shuttle service from the out laying parking into Redskins Stadium any more.

          • Puzzled

            @Lou – I figured that Metro is claiming that it can’t cover its full costs. What I’m puzzling over what is Metro’s operating cost for running ONE more 8 car train during an event like this and what is their revenue from ONE more full 8 car train? The cost Metro should be focused on during events like these is their marginal operating costs (not including fixed costs), because they have to pay the fixed costs irrespective of how many riders they have – so if they can cover their marginal operating costs with the fare they charge they make more money…

        • anon

          The amount metro offered to charge is $29,000. I have no idea how much the rally cost the daily show to put on, but $29,000 doesn’t seem unreasonable.

          I have no idea what Metro’s logic is, I just know that’s the rule. My guess? You can’t always know if ridership is going to be as high as expected and Metro’s sunk costs may not be recouped if ridership is low. So its a way to spread the risk to the event organizer.


          MCM paid for 8 additional hours of service. Since they only opened at 5 am instead of 7am, I’m guessing that “hours” can equate to extra trains/rush hours schedule.

          • anon
          • Puzzled

            Thanks Anon – appreciate the info. The $29k figure is the cost to open the Metro EARLY so you have to pay station managers more, etc. For the rally they didn’t need to open early and Metro had to pay for station managers, etc anyway (part of their fixed cost structure). As for paying Metro to run extra cars – that’s the economics I’m curious about – I’m sure there is a hedge factor but it would have to be pretty big to cover the delta. By not bringing more cars into service during a heavy event like this Metro probably LOST the opportunity to make money. If Metro can’t make money when they run full trains then their problems are even deeper than I thought…

  • Jane Render

    PS – they estimate about 250,000 people at the rally – those are the folks who MADE it! At about 2:30, I started back as I walked up Penn and turned onto 12th to walk the 4 blocks downward, I encountered mobs of people trying to get to the rally. I wonder how many people gave up at the Metro stations…

  • Arlingtonian

    Oh yeah, Metro was a complete nightmare. At one station – and I can’t even remember which, since we all got kicked off a few stations ahead of our stop as the train was going out of service – we noted that of the six trains that went by, three of those were out of service, and the other three were packed full to the point that people were literally falling out when the doors opened. Now I remember why I usually choose to walk in and out of DC on days like this … Eventually to get to dinner, seven of us were able to cram into the various cars of one train and the other three of us took a taxi, and then we all took a taxi home later on.


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