Transportation

Regional Transit caught off guard by crowds at women’s march

Packed RT train leaves some Women's March riders behind

Kelly Kell, 32, of Sacramento, took video of a packed RT light-rail train at the Watt/Manlove station leaving behind some Women's March of Sacramento participants. This occurred during the 9 o'clock hour on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. RT officials sa
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Kelly Kell, 32, of Sacramento, took video of a packed RT light-rail train at the Watt/Manlove station leaving behind some Women's March of Sacramento participants. This occurred during the 9 o'clock hour on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. RT officials sa

Sacramento Regional Transit officials acknowledge they were caught off guard by the large number of people taking light-rail trains to the Women’s March on Sacramento on Saturday – leading to jammed trains, long waits and frustration among some riders.

Several riders complained they couldn’t get on trains that were already full.

“We were expecting a march of half the size it turned out to be,” RT operations manager Mark Lonergan said. “We were prepared for 10,000, not 20,000. Everybody was boarding a couple of trains at the same time.”

Transit agencies in Washington, D.C., and other cities nationally reported similarly crowded conditions at women’s marches due to crowds that were larger than predicted.

Ultimately, about 2,500 marchers rode trains to the Sacramento event. A similar number rode trains back.

Carol Dirksen said she and her husband were lucky to squeeze onto a train at the 65th Street station and found people sitting on others’ laps.

“There were people that allowed me to basically step on their toes,” she said.

The mood was congenial, she said, but “RT completely dropped the ball” and should have done a better job communicating information about delays to those waiting for light-rail trains.

RT started by running two-car trains every half hour Saturday morning, its normal weekend practice, assuming that would be enough, Lonergan said. Agency officials switched to longer trains at more frequent intervals, but said they were not able to get those up and running until after the morning crunch.

Light-rail stations weren’t the only places where participants found themselves waiting. The crowd at the march’s starting point, Southside Park, was so large that many were still waiting to begin walking an hour after the first marchers had arrived at the end point, the state Capitol.

The Sacramento march was one of more than 670 worldwide the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Marchers and speakers advocated for women’s rights and human rights.

Regional Transit officials said they were pleased by the number of people using their system to get downtown, notably because many were women.

Lonergan and other RT officials said the agency has been working since last year to make the train system safer for all riders, but has heard concerns from women in recent years about feeling ill at ease on trains.

Last year the agency added two dozen new fare checkers on trains and reported it has dramatically reduced the number of people attempting to ride trains without paying.

“We are viewing this as positive,” Lonergan said of Saturday’s crowds. “We’re pleased so many people elected to ride transit to come down to the event.”

RT officials say the overall 5,000 estimated riders made Saturday one of the largest single-event, non-commute ridership days in the agency’s history. The agency drew similarly large crowds recently for the Martin Luther King Jr. march and the Sacramento Kings FanFest day last fall.

An estimated 20,000 people attended the Women's March on Sacramento, starting at Southside Park and ending at the California State Capitol. A diverse crowd gathered to promote women's rights and human rights on the first full day of Donald Trump'

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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