I rode on the Metro quite a bit today as I ran errands. I was up in College Park and down by Metro Center and several places in between. For a holiday, ridership seemed to be higher than a normal holiday, but much, much less than a normal weekday.
Still, navigating the system was a nightmare. I can only imagine what it will be like tomorrow. Every station I visited today (Georgia Avenue, College Park, Metro Center, Rhode Island Avenue, and Fort Totten) had massive lines at farecard machines. At Metro Center it took me almost 10 minutes just to get out of the station. People milled about, standing in front of escalators and faregates. They stopped suddenly, gathered in front of the train doors, and stood on the left on escalators.
Tomorrow, with ridership largely expected to be Metro's highest ever, the system will be severely strained. And I think the strain will come not from the volume of ridership, but from the riders themselves.
Theoretically, Metro has a maximum capacity. The equation which would determine this would need to account for things such as number of railcars available for service, the capacity of each, the throughput of trackways and escalators, and so on.
One such statistic, for instance, is that a Metro escalator can handle 90 persons per minute. I think that tomorrow, that number will be much lower. With visitors and tourists lost in the system and confused about where to board trains or which exit to use, I am afraid that Metro's capacity will be much lower. Even with a crowd only as large as a normal workday, I think the system would be straining.
I hope I'm wrong. I have no doubt that Metro will do its best, and I don't think that there is any fault with the system, but I hope the riders tomorrow do their part to keep the system moving. Don't expect smooth sailing tomorrow, but don't worry--Metro will get you there. Just stay patient and be prepared to take alternate routes to get home if necessary. If you're headed to the Inauguration tomorrow, leave early and have a Plan B and a Plan C.