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Crowded trains, Bikeshare set weekend records

Sunday - 4/13/2014, 4:56pm  ET

Trains (WTOP/Max Smith)
Capital Bikeshare broke the record for number of trips in a single day on Saturday. Crowds took to the MARC as a way to dodge I-95. (WTOP/Max Smith)

WASHINGTON -- Huge crowds of Cherry Blossom visitors, tourists, and people simply enjoying the weather helped set transit records in the D.C. area this weekend.

Capital Bikeshare burst through the record for number of trips in a single day on Saturday, with 15,746 one-way rides. That is about 4,374 more than the record of 11,551 that had just been set on Friday (the previous record of 11,372 had been set Apr. 19, 2013).

Capital Bikeshare says 50.3 percent of all trips Saturday were taken by so-called casual members - the people who pay with a credit card at a docking station to use the bikes for one or three days. On a typical day, casual members take only 20 percent of trips, while longer-term members with Bikeshare fobs take the rest.

At one point Saturday, 1,170 Capital Bikeshare bikes were in use - about 45 percent of the bikes available.

Crowds also flocked to MARC trains as a way to avoid the massive backups on I-95.

"Saturday, we did find extremely crowded conditions, it was standing room only on some trains," Maryland Transit Administration spokesman Paul Shepard says.

Between the Cherry Blossoms parade, the Wizards at home at the Verizon Center and the Orioles home at Camden Yards, Shepard says the crowding was "sort of like a perfect storm there for having large crowds on a train."

Penn Line trains were full on Sunday too, but not as packed as the trains on Saturday that had some passengers standing up all the way from BWI to Union Station. Overall, Shepard describes this weekend's MARC trains as more crowded than on a normal weekday because of the nice weather and major events.

"It caused great demand for our MARC weekend service. We don't have figures yet, but we do believe when the final tally comes in, we're going to have some fantastic ridership results," Shepard says.

In December, there were about 4,000 trips on the Penn Line in the first weekend of service. By March, the number had climbed to 6,500 in a weekend, prompting MARC to add more cars to weekend trains.

Shepard says the Maryland Transit Administration will have to consider adding even more cars to weekend trains if ridership remains close to the levels seen this weekend.

"Because there are so many people riding, that obviously is a revenue generator in and of itself," Shepard says. "So everything is on the table in terms of how, if it is decided that we have to make more seats available on weekends, how that would transpire."

Before December, anyone who wanted to take the train between Washington, BWI-Marshall Airport and Baltimore had to take Amtrak.

There are now nine trains in each direction between Union Station and Penn Station on Saturdays, and six trains in each direction on Sundays. They have fewer cars than weekday rush-hour trains.

There are still no weekend trains on the Camden or Brunswick lines, or any weekend Virginia Railway Express (VRE) service on the other side of the Potomac.

Metro has not released ridership data for the weekend, but the agency expected a higher than average number of people riding Metro trains this weekend.

Shepard says the MTA is focused on the Penn Line's weekend service for now, rather than potential additions on the other two MARC lines.

The earliest train on Saturdays leaves Baltimore at 7:35 a.m., while the earliest train on Sundays leaves Baltimore at 9:15 a.m. They reach D.C. an hour later.

From Washington, the earliest train leaves at 9:02 a.m. Saturday and at 10:40 a.m. Sunday.

The latest trains on Saturday leave Baltimore at 9:15 p.m. and D.C. at 10:35 p.m. On Sunday, the last MARC trains leave Baltimore at 5:30 p.m. and Washington at 7:00 p.m.

"There have been some people who have asked for trains that run a little bit later on the weekend, and everything is on the table. We're just so pleased that the riding public has chosen to make this such a successful service," Shepard says.

He says projects like this will help the MTA reach its goal of doubling public transit trips by 2020.

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