- Wikimedia Commons
By John Hendel
Memorial Day Weekend may be a celebration for most people, but for those who run DC's Metro, the holiday means work. WMATA is in the midst of a six-year, $5 billion Capital Improvements Program to upgrade and fix its system, from escalators to laying cables to increase cell-phone service to replacing 4,700 fasteners. But these projects also signify a headache for the DC commuter--four stations closed and an anticipated extra 40 minutes on a person's weekend Metro commute.
So how should the commuter plan ahead for this weekend? And more importantly, how is WMATA getting the word out about these delays and accommodating the stressed capital travelers?
"If you don't have to take the Metro in a work area, that'd be fantastic," says Cathy Asato, information specialist for WMATA's media relations staff. "And if you do, expect delays."
Four stations--Capitol South, Eastern Market, Potomac Ave, and Stadium-Armory-- will close at 10 p.m. tonight and remain so through Memorial Day itself on Monday as crews work on the Orange, Blue, and Red Lines. To accommodate travelers, there will be free shuttles running along the closed routes, as WMATA's website notes. There will be also 150 extra Metro police to help guide people around, Asato says. She advises people to watch for the signs and the extra Metro staff to help find their way.
And speaking of the WMATA site, don't even think about glancing at the Trip Planner to calculate your routes around DC. The travel tool is often the perfect way to see in real time how long the arrival and departure of station trains and how to plot out DC's transit.
"Unfortunately," Asato explains, "the Trip Planner will not reflect the extent of this work."
Metro has tried to inform people primarily through their website and their Twitter account, started back in March 2009 and now with more than 10,000 followers. Their outreach also extends to ads in print and announcements and signs in the station.
Long holiday weekends are the perfect time for workers to conduct maintenance projects due to the additional time, particularly helpful for bringing in larger equipment for more complicated jobs. These maintenance projects have also happened during recent holidays such as Martin Luther King Day, Columbus Day, and Labor Day. Metro also chooses holiday weekends, Asato explains, due to the lower ridership of the Metro during them. Their staff looked to the data from 2010's Memorial Day to help plan this one. During last year's, Metro had 345,000 riders on Saturday, 312,000 on Sunday, and a remarkable low of 252,000 on the Monday holiday itself.
How does this compare to an average weekend? Normally Metro sees 360,000 riders on Saturday, and 268,000 on Sunday. Sunday is the one day during which the holiday weekend experiences even more traffic than usual, at least in 2010, but Asato cautions against generalizing. Factors such as the weather can have a big impact on holiday traffic. And overall, the holiday traffic numbers are significantly lower.
These past experiences inform how Metro's staff has planned to deal with traffic this year. In 2011, for instance, WMATA has learned to better match up train times with the schedule of the shuttles, Asato says.
Luckily, as Asato assures Metro passengers, the system should be completely back to business as usual by Monday morning. "We do appreciate the patience," Asato says.