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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Security enhancements, weather contribute to low July 4 ridership at WMATA


Although Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority typically carries 475,000 to 575,000 passengers throughout Washington, D.C., during Independence Day festivities, ridership this July 4 was only 356,673 — down 26.6 percent compared with last year.

WMATA officials can’t say for certain why more than 129,000 fewer people rode trains this year, but enhanced security — and the unspecified terrorist threats that prompted them — likely played a part.

Park Police were posted at the National Mall, closed several streets and some parts of the Mall, operated security check points, and conducted security inspections throughout the day.

People might have stayed closer to home rather than deal with the hassles, says Steven Taubenkibel, WMATA spokesman, adding that perhaps the "what-if" factor kept people from downtown Washington.

Officials also believe Independence Day’s weather — sunny with a high heat index — might have contributed. Historically, similar weather patterns have affected ridership, but not nearly to this degree.

Whatever people’s individual reasons, this year’s ridership was the lowest at least since 1988 (the earliest year for which July 4 ridership records are available). The second-lowest July 4 ridership (384,000) occurred in 1989.

But ridership more than rebounded July 10: 698,784 passengers marked the 12th highest ridership day in WMATA’s 26-year history. And this day there were no special events or rallies in Washington that might have inflated numbers.

WMATA’s average weekday ridership currently is between 650,000 and 680,000 trips per day.

Kathi Kube