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Visiting inaugural may mean hike

Tour bus operators are raising concerns about the District of Columbia’s plans to accommodate their riders for the presidential inauguration, saying a ban on dropping passengers off at transit stations could force people to walk as far as three miles to the Capitol from the main bus parking area.

With only limited shuttle service for the elderly and the disabled from tour bus parking sites, the walk could pose problems in cold weather or for people who arrive attired for inaugural balls and wearing high heels or dress shoes, the bus operators say.

The locations of other tour bus parking spots, such as Washington National Cathedral, could also force out-of-town visitors to walk to transit stations on unfamiliar routes almost as long, he said.

“A three-mile walk is okay if you’re wearing Nike tennis shoes and you’re not wearing hose and a dress,” said Dan Ronan, a spokesman for the American Bus Association.

City transportation officials expect about 2,500 buses when President Obama takes his public oath of office on Jan. 21, coinciding with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. They say they are trying to balance a number of competing interests and security needs to ensure that people can get where they need to go easily and safely, often on foot.

“You shouldn’t try to do an inauguration in high heels, and walking’s part of the day,” said Dan Stessel, spokesman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Organizers expect a turnout of about 1 million for Obama’s second inauguration, smaller than in 2009, when his historic first swearing-in brought a record 1.3 million people and about 3,000 chartered buses to the city.

Officials with the District Department of Transportation and WMATA, which runs the Metro rail and bus system, said the rules and procedures for chartered buses are the same as they were in 2009. This time, however, Metro officials said they intend to enforce a ban that says only authorized mass-transit vehicles can drop riders off in Metro stations’ bus lanes.

Metro ridership for the first inauguration hit record highs as 1.1 million people used its rail lines and an additional 400,000 rode its buses. Tour buses contributed to city traffic, sometimes by discharging passengers at Metro stations on the system’s perimeter.

Ronan said drivers have also been worried that the city has not made adequate provisions for the fleets’ drivers, who must stay with their vehicles.

The city’s strict limits on idling buses may hinder drivers’ efforts to stay warm, Ronan said, and the city has told the group only that there may be food vendors at RFK, where most buses will park.

“This doesn’t seem to be a viable solution that ‘maybe’ we’ll get some food trucks,” Ronan said.

But Lisle said that there will be warming tents for drivers and light vending and that the city might relax rules on bus idling for the event.

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Mary Pat Flaherty and Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.

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