Metro has gotten quite a bit of press this week for the overcrowded conditions faced by people trying to get to the Stewart/Colbert Rally on Saturday.

Greater Greater Washington has asked Metro for more information about service on Saturday, and while not all of our questions have yet been answered, they have been able to get some information to us. We haven’t had a chance to analyze everything, but we can see some interesting ridership patterns from Saturday.

Systemwide Metro entries and exits by hour. Graphic by author, data courtesy WMATA.



Saturday’s ridership patterns appear to be basically what one would expect, although with some notable attributes in places. Metro’s ridership on the day of the rally was the highest for any Saturday in the system’s history, with over 825,000 trips.

The above graphic shows the number of entries (blue) and exits (dark red) by hour throughout the Metro system.

There’s nothing shocking here. Both entry and exit numbers exhibit a double peak, as we would expect. Interestingly enough, the earlier (pre-rally) peaks are higher than the later (post-rally) peaks. This is probably due to a few different factors.

I would hypothesize that some people took their time going home, perhaps stopping at a restaurant, bar, or museum. Others may have been discouraged from taking the Metro home based on their morning experiences.


Many riders started their trips in the suburbs, so let’s look there first. In the graphic above, we can see entries and exits at Shady Grove throughout the day. The hour beginning at 11 o’clock was the peak entry period, with close to 3,000 entries in that hour (50 persons/min, average). A double peak in the 6p hour and 8p hour for exits would indicate that there were two surges of riders coming home.

I find it puzzling as to why the hour from 7:00-7:59p has a dip, instead of a number of exits similar to the adjacent hours.


Columbia Heights also shows an interesting time distribution. Like Shady Grove, the 11 o’clock hour is the peak entry period. The peak is not as defined, however.

Entries don’t really drop off until after 2p. Even more interesting is the absence of an exit peak. People seem to have trickled back to Columbia Heights (or avoided Metro altogether). Perhaps urbanites are more likely to do other things in the city than hop on the first train home.

Note: since Columbia Heights is not an end-of-line station, we don’t know the directionality of those boarding. Most AM passengers were probably headed to the Rally, however.


Activity at this Smithsonian is precisely what one would expect, since the station was one of the closest to the site of the Rally.

Prior to the Rally, the station experienced a growing increase in exits which peaked between 11:00 and 11:59p. There was a slight drop-off for the period from 12:00 and 12:59, perhaps because there were throughput issues on the Metro or perhaps because the Rally was starting. But then there was a huge spike in exits between 1:00 and 1:59.

As we expect, from 4:00-6:59p, there is a large number of entries. This includes a peak at 4p and a smaller peak at 6p.

Smithsonian had more exits than any other station in the system for the whole day on Saturday with 46,738 exits.


Gallery Place exhibits what we expect for a downtown station not too far from the site of the rally. A peak in exits similar to those at Smithsonian can be seen, though the peak is smaller. Entries peaked earlier than those at Smithsonian. And except for a dip from 6-6:59 (dinner?), entries remained high, though with a dropping trend, throughout the evening.

This station had more entries than any other station in the system for the whole day on Saturday with 50,969 entries.


The above graph shows entries and exits at all Red Line stations between noon and 12:59p. The stations are arranged linearly from the A [Shady Grove] Route (left) to the B [Glenmont] Route (right).

This chart does not represent the fullness of a train operating from left to right. It only shows entries and exits in a linear format, like the Red Line. It is incapable of demonstrating where people exited the Red Line to transfer to other lines. So the Metro Center number only shows entries and exits of the faregates, not transfers. Those number do show people who entered or exited Metro Center, Gallery Place, and Fort Totten and used lines other than the Red Line.

These ridership numbers aren’t earth shattering in their patterns, even if they are in sheer volume. But they do reveal some interesting dips and spikes. What do you find most interesting about these graphs?

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master’s in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Capitol Hill. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and is an employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer.