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WMATA record ridership, late-night weekend trains continue

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority recently entered new statistics in its record books. Ten months into fiscal year 2001, WMATA’s average weekday rail ridership was 650,600 trips — the highest in the authority’s 25-year history, and an average of 53,800 (9 percent) more trips per weekday compared with April 2000.

"Metrorail also had a large number of individual record-setting ridership days in April," said WMATA Chairman Decatur Trotter in a prepared statement. "Thirteen days made the list of the top 25 days in Metrorail history."

Although higher gas prices may have contributed, Trotter attributes the gain to the number of tourists using the system, school spring breaks, the annual cherry blossom festivities, and the agency’s marketing and advertising campaign, which is designed to encourage people to use the system during off-peak and late evening hours.

WMATA in November 1999 began an eight-month pilot program to extend Metrorail hours to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Officials expected to transport 4,600 additional riders during the extra hour; instead, 4,705 customers on average rode the late-night trains.

Based on that success and the lack of significant staff operational or maintenance challenges, officials in June 2000 voted unanimously to make 1 a.m. the permanent weekend closing time. Concurrently, board members also extended the closing time to 2 a.m. for a one-year pilot program.

In the year since, more than 548,000 passengers have ridden the trains between midnight and 2 a.m. Officials projected an average of 7,400 customers would take advantage of the later hours; so far, an average of 10,500 have done so.

"With the later hours on Friday and Saturday, it has allowed more people to enjoy the benefits of downtown DC for a longer period of time — who, in turn, provide a significant economic growth to downtown and the entire metropolitan region," said WMATA General Manager Richard White.

The board voted June 14 to make the weekend late-night close permanent.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/15/2001