Ravens fans give light rail a case of gridiron gridlock Transit officials hope buses can be remedy

August 10, 1998|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Howard Libit contributed to this article.

After a record number of passengers overwhelmed the light rail before and after the downtown stadium's first game Saturday night, Maryland transportation officials said yesterday that they would try to persuade more football fans to ride buses to the new Ravens stadium.

About 13,000 passengers rode the light rail Saturday, exceeding the system's capacity -- and officials' pre-game estimates -- by more than 60 percent. The crush caused some fans to miss the kick-off of the Ravens' pre-season opener, and left some waiting by the tracks for more than an hour and a half after game's end.

Dianna Rosborough, deputy administrator for the state Mass Transit Administration, said transportation officials will meet tomorrow to begin looking for ways to better manage the flow of tens of thousands of football fans.

"We're going to do some Monday-morning quarterbacking," Rosborough said. "We obviously know we have to do some things differently."

Rosborough said officials will review how well ticket machines served customers, and consider increasing the numberof employees selling tickets by hand. She said officials will look for ways to better manage the lines of passengers waiting to board the train at the Hamburg Street station near the stadium.

But Rosborough said the easiest way to reduce the crowds on the light rail would be to encourage fans to ride express buses from the seven park-and-ride locations that ring the city. About -- 7,000 fans rode buses Saturday -- at least 2,000 fewer than expected.

The transit problems marred what was otherwise a smooth christening for the stadium. With a sellout crowd of nearly 66,000 fans gathered for the first game at the $220 million facility, only minor problems were reported. A few lights didn't work. A smoky kitchen grill drew the attention of on-site firefighters.

John Moag, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said yesterday, "I don't think much went wrong."

Before the game, officials warned of potential gridlock downtown. The game was played at the same time as concerts at the Baltimore Arena and Pier 6.

Apparently, many heeded the warnings. About 20,000 fans arrived by all forms of mass transit, compared with a forecast of about 17,000; highways and city streets remained relatively clear. But by late afternoon, parking lots at light rail stations were filled, and platforms were thronged with impatient football and music fans.

Rudolf Koffler, 47, a computer consultant from Pikesville, said he arrived at the Falls Road station about 5: 20, figuring he had plenty of time to get to the stadium. Instead, he watched at least three trains, packed with passengers, roll through the station without stopping.

He said he finally arrived downtown about 7: 50 -- missing the pre-game hoopla and the kick-off.

"The situation was totally out of control," Koffler said. "They kept on making promises over the PA system that they would get people there, on time, but they didn't. They're not equipped to handle surges of people."

After the game, the mass of passengers at the Hamburg Street station resembled a line at a theme park. Bored by the wait, some passengers on the bridge over the tracks began a chant for beer. Some fans who had resumed their tailgating after the game obliged by tossing them a few cans.

MTA officials said the last train filled to capacity left about 10 minutes after midnight -- more than an hour and a half after the end of the game.

Anthony Brown, an MTA spokesman, said some fans drove past park-and-ride lots to catch light rail. Apparently, fans like the idea riding the train to a station next to the stadium, he said.

The round-trip fare for express buses is $6, compared with $2.70 for light rail.

Brown said it might be unfair to cut off ticket sales once the light rail's capacity is reached because some riders rely on the system to get to their jobs.

MTA officials said the express buses bring fans nearly as close to the stadium. And, compared with light rail, they give transportation officials more options to tailor service to demand.

"If we find out the White Marsh park-and-ride is being heavily utilized, we can send 20 buses to White Marsh. We can't make that kind of shift on light rail," Rosborough said.

For now, the light rail's capacity of 8,000 riders per day cannot be increased, officials said. All 43 cars, forming 16 trains, were on the tracks Saturday.

Officials said trains can be no more than three cars long, with a capacity of 675 riders. Longer trains would block intersections while stopped for red lights. Brown said the first of about 13 cars expected to be added to the fleet this year should be on the rails by October.

Moag said it is important to find the proper balance in which some fans would drive to downtown parking garages, others would ride the bus and fewer would ride light rail.

After all, he said, the Ravens' regular season opening game is Sept. 6 -- when many will use light rail to get to the state fair in Timonium.

Pub Date: 8/10/98

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