Metro’s general manager is proposing to charge riders rush-hour fares and parking fees on Inauguration Day, despite earlier plans to offer free parking and lower rail fares as the transit system typically does on federal holidays.

General Manager John Catoe said he plans to ask the board of directors Thursday to consider changing its rates for much of Jan. 20 as the system expects record-breaking crowds amid a tight economic climate.

“These are going to be very high expenses for the Metro system,” Catoe said Tuesday in an interview on WTOP radio. “We should minimize the impact to our local riders.”

Projections of inauguration crowds vary from 2 million to 4 million, but Catoe said the Metro system cannot handle more than 1 million passengers on its rails and 600,000 on its network of buses. The trains are scheduled to start early and run 15 consecutive hours of rush-hour service Jan. 20 to handle the crush.

 “It’s going to be the most challenging day in the history of Metro,” Catoe said. “We will carry what we can. There will be delays.”
Some other cities have thrown open their turnstiles with free service during big events. But Catoe said he wouldn’t recommend that unless directed by the transit agency’s board.

Yet charging for parking presents a challenge, as riders need a SmarTrip card to pay at Metro parking facilities yet out-of-towners may not have bought those cards. Metro spokeswoman Candace Smith said the system is looking into alternatives, such as paying upon entry as is commonly done at sporting events.

Such higher fees could cost a rider as much as $9 more for a round-trip fare and parking on Inauguration Day. Metro’s one-way rush-hour fares cost from 30 cents to $2.15 more than nonpeak-hour fares, while parking in Metro’s 42 lots costs from $3 to $4.75 per day.

The additional fares, if approved, could bring in as much as $2.3 million to the financially strapped transit agency.

“By charging the peak-hour fare, we can recover some of the expense,” Catoe said. “It will not recover 100 percent.

We will ask the federal government after the program and the celebrations are over to reimburse us for any difference between the fares we collect and the actual cost of the services.”