The Drop in Transit Benefit Has Effectively Been a 20% Cost Increase for Metrorail Riders

November 6th, 2014 9 comments

The drop in the federal transit benefit is making Metrorail riders feel the pinch in their wallets, and it’s hurting ridership.

What’s happened to ridership since the benefit changed? You may have seen in the news that Metrorail riders have been heavily impacted by changes in federal tax law that discourages transit usage.  The maximum amount of SmartBenefits dropped from $240 to $130 per month in January, and since then:

  • Since the change, our traditional commuter market - full-fare customers who travel from suburban stations to the core at peak times – has fallen by about 1.5%.
  • Trips shorter than 4 miles – more likely to still be fully subsidized – are unchanged.
  • Customers able to get through the month on SmartBenefits alone are down 25%, while customers who must supplement with their own cash have doubled, and the net result has been a 10% loss in trips from this key commute market.
  • 75% of this ridership loss has been from trips over 7 miles: at an average fare of $4.10/trip equating to $165/month and up, these longer commutes now require substantial out-of-pocket contributions.
  • The average impacted SmartBenefits customer must now pay $0.84 extra per trip – this is the equivalent of a 20% fare hike.
    • For riders directly subsidized by the federal government, this was increase of nearly $2.40 per day, or over $54/month.
    • For riders setting aside pre-tax dollars, this felt like a 10% fare increase.
  • Trips paid for with SmartBenefits have dropped 1%.
Change in Ridership by SmartBenefits Class v2

The decrease in the federal transit benefit has hurt Metrorail ridership in the last year. Ridership is up from customers who are unaffected by the policy change, but more people must supplement with out-of-pocket contributions to make it through the month, and in the process Metrorail is losing trips.

How do you know it’s not something else? Ridership could be down for a variety of reasons, and we continue to mine the data for other patterns – from the economy to demographics to fares. We can’t pin all of the ridership loss on the federal transit benefit, but the losses have been concentrated on SmartBenefits users. In addition:

  • Ridership from commuters not enrolled in SmartBenefits has actually grown by 2% in the last year.
  • We are still investigating, but customers do not appear to be reducing travel much due to telework. Metrorail has been losing both customers and trips (not just trips), and trip frequency among commuters is mostly stable.
  • In fact, we are gaining riders at stations with recent transit-oriented development, and ridership is up 3% at stations along the Green Line in D.C., the Red Line in Northeast D.C., and Courthouse/Clarendon in Arlington.

We continue to study the trends, and for a second glance see our more detailed summary of ridership trends (PDF, 710K).

“Virtual” Tunnel Yields Real Benefits

November 4th, 2014 14 comments

Use of the “Farragut Crossing” virtual tunnel is strong, averaging around 18,000 trips per month during the more temperate months, dropping to 15,000 during the winter.

Users of the Metrorail system come up with a lot of different ideas for how Metro can better serve their needs.  Ideas often come from the blogging community and are sometimes considered by Metro planners, researchers and leadership.  One such idea was the virtual tunnel between Farragut North and Farragut WestNow dubbed “Farragut Crossing” via a Facebook naming contest, this fare policy update allows transfers between the two Farragut stations without being charged two separate fares.

Farragut Crossing was first opened in October of 2011 and monthly usage increased from just a few thousand trips in its first few months to a max of over 21,000 in May of 2014.  Since then, it’s settled to around 18,000 during the fair-weather months.

Read more…

Imagining Metrobus 2.0

October 20th, 2014 22 comments

Metro is re-imagining the region’s bus network to improve travel times, enhance connectivity, and deliver service cost-effectively.

Network A - Principal Routes

Over the past year, as part of the Metrobus Network Effectiveness Study, Metro began exploring potential future Metrobus restructuring scenarios based on the region’s growth trajectory over the next two decades. The scenarios also reflect the market segments where Metrobus can be more effective — places like the urban core, activity centers, and major arterial streets. Planners took the Metrobus network in the region’s Constrained Long-Range Plan (CLRP) for 2030 as the basis of comparison and formulated several network restructuring alternatives. This post will introduce the alternative networks, while future posts will present the performance of the networks, as well as a completely new proposed network built from the ground up. The flow chart below illustrates the network alternatives, followed by a brief explanation about each alternative.

Read more…

Mass Transit Needs Mass

October 15th, 2014 6 comments

Transit expansion is in demand but Metrorail, light rail, and other high capacity transit projects can be expensive to build, operate and maintain.  With limited resources to invest, our region must ensure that these projects serve the most robust transit markets and are supported by strong transit friendly policies.

Informed by our peers and local performance measures, Metro is developing guidelines that the region can use to inform development of high capacity transit projects. As we’ve explored previously, there’s much more to transit expansion than Metrorail. In fact, due to the cost associated with Metrorail expansion along with existing land uses and built environment in much of the region, most of our future high capacity transit projects will be made up of other transit modes. But what is the best way to decide what mode best fits each corridor? The goal of the expansion guidelines is to inform those decisions.

Development in Arlington’s Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor has validated initial and ongoing investments in Metrorail. (source: Arlington County)

A literature and peer review included policy documents from BART (PDF), the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Florida DOT, Virginia DRPT, Federal Transit Administration (PDF), and research from the University of California Transportation Center (UCTC). The review found that ridership, density, the presence of walkable streets and sidewalks, local plans and policies, and cost effectiveness are the most relevant criteria to evaluate transit projects and that rigorous performance targets are needed to support each transit mode. Read more…

Where Are Silver Line Riders Going?

October 9th, 2014 8 comments

Ridership patterns on the Silver Line show that Metro’s new line is serving a truly regional market.

Now that school is back in session, the new Silver Line just completed its first full week where “normal” travel patterns are beginning to emerge. Ridership is strong, but where are these new passengers going? The diagram below shows destinations of all riders entering a Silver Line station in the week of September 8-12, 2014.

Where Are SV Riders Going_Sept 2014_typicalweekdayV3

Some observations emerge from this: Read more…

Early Ridership on the Silver Line

October 8th, 2014 6 comments

After just two months, ridership on the Silver Line is off to a solid start: Wiehle Ave is already over projections, reverse commuting is strong, and more. 

Now that school is back in session and most summer vacations over, here is an in-depth look at the week of September 8-12, 2014, when “normal” routines may have begun to emerge.

At around 15,000 entries per weekday, the Silver Line is off to a solid start.  Compared to the official projections from the 2004 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), we are achieving about 60% of the ridership projected for the end of the line’s first year:

Typical Weekday SV Ridership vs. ProjectionsWiehle station is already over opening-year projections and shows the highest ridership of all the new stations.  Tysons Corner station is strong as well, but we still have room to grow at all four stations located in the Tysons area.

Looking at ridership by time of day shows the Wiehle is a commuting powerhouse, but also that a strong reverse commute market is emerging at the other stations:

SV Ridership by 15-minute increment

  • McLean (in blue) is showing an early lead as a a “traditional” commute station, where most riders enter in the morning.
  • Tysons Corner is much more dominated by reverse commuters, and its morning rush extends into mid-morning (around 10:00am).  Evening ridership at Tysons Corners is also heavy. (More on off-peak ridership at Tysons coming soon)
  • Greensboro and Spring Hill show relatively light ridership so far, but ridership is expected to grow over time as development catches up with the new station.

What do you think?  Have you taken the Silver Line on a weekday? What was your experience?

The raw data by quarter-hour interval underlying this analysis is available in two formats: by station alone (2MB, .xlsx), and by origin-destination station (3MB, zipped tab-delimited .txt).

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Nationals Playoff Games and Metrorail Ridership

October 3rd, 2014 No comments

When the Nationals reached the playoffs in 2012, about 12,000 fans per game took Metrorail – from all over the region, and even late at night!

Now that the Nationals have clinched a spot in the playoffs, Nationals Park will once again host October baseball beginning this afternoon. How many fans might take Metrorail to and from the game?

To answer that, let’s look back to 2012, the last time the Nats reached the playoffs. Games 3, 4, and 5 of the National League Division Series (NLDS) were played here at Nationals Park – Wednesday at 1:07 pm, Thursday at 4:07 pm, and Friday at 8:37 pm. Attendance at all three games was around 45,000 people. Here’s what ridership (Metrorail system entries) looked like at Navy Yard-Ballpark station on those days:

Nationals Ridership_NavyYard_NLDS2012_byHalfHour_v2

The sheer volume of passengers through Navy Yard station were impressive.  Sustaining over 4,000 entries per half-hour for nearly two hours is roughly equivalent to 4-lane highway, and exceeds what even the busiest stations achieve on a typical day.  For comparison, normal peak-of-peak volumes through Union Station, Metro Center, and Farragut West rarely exceed 3,000 entries per half hour. Read more…

Metro Responds to Bike Parking Demand at McLean Station

September 29th, 2014 1 comment

Demand for bicycle parking at the new McLean Station exceeded capacity in the Silver Line’s first few weeks, so Metro has already added more racks.

When Metro planners learned that bike racks were not prominent in the Silver Line station designs (completed by our partners in Virginia), Metro fought hard to make sure that bike racks were planned for and installed at the stations.  And that’s good news, indeed, because by August, nearly all of the bike racks were full at McLean station.  Recognizing this need, Metro added space for 20 more bicycles (10 racks) at the station.  The new racks bring the total capacity for bikes to 72 on racks. Bike lockers are still available at McLean, too.

Increasing bike access to the Silver Line is a good sign for ridership, revenue, and station access. Metro will keep an eye on utilization this fall and add capacity where needed.

Bike Parking at McLean station on the Silver Line last Thursday.

Nearly full bike racks at McLean station on the Silver Line a few weeks ago, before Metro added more racks.

Off-Peak Ridership at Tysons Corner is Strong

September 24th, 2014 6 comments

Even though Tysons Corner station on the Silver Line is only two months old, off-peak ridership is particularly strong. Saturdays are busier than weekdays, and the station stays busy past 10:00pm. 

Tysons Corner station is already serving a solid reverse commute market, but ridership is also strong during midday hours, and reaches its peak during the afternoon rush and evening hours.

Tysons Entries - first 2 weeks

Tysons Exits - first 2 weeks

Ridership is fairly well balanced throughout the day, relative to other Metrorail stations.  There’s a clear reverse commute market exiting the station during morning rush and re-entering in the evening. In the evening, however, nearly just as many people are exiting the station as are entering the stations, suggesting the commuters are mixing with other riders bound for the malls or other activities. Read more…

Funding Metro – A Critical First Step

September 22nd, 2014 1 comment

Local leaders are set to commit to Metro’s long term state of good repair needs for the first time through the region’s transportation plan, but the plan omits key investments that are critical to solving some of the region’s most critical needs.

This fall the region’s transportation leaders will approve an update the Constrained Long Range Plan (CLRP) financial plan, required by federal law every four years, to ensure the region’s ability to pay for transportation expenditures with reasonably anticipated revenues. During the 2014 update, Metro collaborated with staff from the Transportation Planning Board (TPB), the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, and the three state DOTs to identify funding for the system’s long-term operations and maintenance (O&M) and capital needs.  The draft plan, which expresses the region’s major transportation priorities, is scheduled to be adopted by the TPB on October 15th.

Metro's future capital needs to repair and maintain the existing fleet

Projection of Metro’s future fleet State of Good Repair (SGR) capital needs

Read more…