National Zoo stands by timed-entry passes despite DC delegate’s concerns over limited access

The National Zoo in D.C. is standing by its decision to keep time-entry passes in place after most Smithsonian museums stopped using them.

Zoo director Dr. Brandie Smith, in a letter to D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, said using the passes allows the zoo to better manage visitor capacity, reduce local traffic congestion and provide better and safer visits for those who visit the zoo.

The response comes after Norton sent a letter to Smith on Monday, sharing her concerns that the passes limit access to the zoo, especially among people who have limited access to computers, smartphones and the internet.

“Advance knowledge of our attendance allows us to plan for the most efficient and responsible park operations, especially for staffing and providing guest amenities,” Smith said.

Speaking on the response to her letter, Norton said that while the zoo’s response is helpful, she still wants more information from the zoo.

On whether passes help prevent overcrowding and increased traffic congestion, “It’s in the winter time, I’m not sure that there’s such crowding of the zoo at this time of the year,” Norton said.

She believes the free online pass not only keeps some locals away, but the system also affects visitors to D.C. who want to go to the popular destination.

“The zoo’s decision to make it difficult to have access to the zoo had also national repercussions,” Norton said.

The timed passes came about as the zoo and the Smithsonian museums emerged from being closed at the start of the pandemic.

In addition, Norton said she was concerned that the policy led visitors to believe passes were only available online. The zoo said it made changes to its website to clear things up.

“In response to your [Norton’s] feedback, we have changed the language on our website to better explain the availability of same-day passes and assistance for guests who cannot access the online system,” Smith wrote.

Norton said she is already in talks with the National Zoo to hold a town hall meeting on the park’s Loop Trail. She intends to add timed passes to the discussion, so residents can speak to zoo officials directly about the ticketing system.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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