As gasoline prices drop and commuters feel less pain at the pump, do they drive more and take Metro less? The short answer is maybe, but not much.
In recent months, gasoline prices in the Washington region have dropped by over a dollar per gallon, to a near-record low of around $2.50 per gallon. Here’s how gas prices have changed in the last 11 years (unadjusted for inflation):
Below is a simple scatter plot comparing those prices to bus and rail ridership to gasoline prices, by month, for the last 11 years. It shows that gas prices have a very small, nearly negligible, effect on Metro ridership. The relationship is essentially zero for Metrobus, and barely detectable on Metrorail as a whole, as pictured below. The link is best with off-peak rail ridership (R2 = 0.24) compared to peak ridership (R2 = 0.09), suggesting that off-peak Metrorail riders are most sensitive to gas prices. (Not pictured.) Read more…
Many Metrorail riders now run out of SmartBenefits mid-month, and they may stop riding.
Since the federal transit benefit maximum dropped from $240 to $130 per month, about 25% of regular Metrorail commuters are running out of SmartBenefits to pay their fare before the month is over. By month’s end, trips paid for with SmartBenefits are now crashing by 40% over last year. Though a variety of factors explain recent decreases in Metrorail ridership, the transit benefit is a strong explanation as to why the losses are concentrated in the second half of the month. In fact, the biggest influence on ridership over the past year may be the cut in the federal transit benefit, and ridership might even be up by about 2% otherwise.
If we look at trips per day over the span of the month, and only at trips over 7 miles paid for with SmartBenefits, we see the drop closely coinciding with when riders run out of SmartBenefits. (Shorter trips can be fully funded by the current benefit amount of $130 per month.)
The day was the Tysons Corner Station’s busiest since the Silver Line opened.
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. As would be expected, ridership at Metro’s new Tysons Corner station skyrocketed on Black Friday this year. The station facilitated 10,800 riders entering or exiting over the course of the day, double its normal weekday volume of around 5,500. The chart below shows ridership at Tysons Corner by half-hour for all Fridays since Labor Day.
The day was the first sign of success for Metro’s partnership with Tysons Corner Center and the Tysons Partnership, to encourage shoppers to take Metro to Tysons.
What patterns do you see in this data? Check out the other analysis, visualizations, and the data here.
Carrying an average of 11,000 riders to every Nationals home game, Metrorail maintained a 34% mode share to Nationals park in the 2014 season.
How many baseball fans take Metro to Nationals Park? Metro’s rail planning team tracks this statistic, by looking at activity around game times at Navy Yard-Ballpark and Capitol South stations that exceed our typical baseline ridership. On game days, Metro provides special game-day trains on the Green Line to handle increased loads to and from Navy Yard-Ballpark station.
Over the 81 home games in 2014, Metrorail brought an estimated 890,000 total riders to the ballpark, or about 11,000 riders per game. Compared to the average attendance of 31,000 at Nationals Park this year, this equates to a 34% mode share for Metrorail at Nationals Park. Including both entries and exits, Nationals games generated about 1.7 million total trips for Metrorail this season. A few more observations:
- Interestingly, ridership to the game is typically 8% higher than ridership from the game – some spectators must be finding another way home!
- Metrorail’s mode share was highest for Friday games (38%), and lowest for Wednesday games (32%)
- Mode share increases slightly for high-attendance games, but the relationship is weak. Metrorail’s market share remains mostly stable in the 30-40% range, whether attendance was 20,000 or 40,000.
We’ve posted additional visualizations and the raw data, in addition to the charts in this post. What do you think? What patterns do you see?
Metrorail’s special Veterans Day schedule handily served commuters and concert goers alike.
On November 11, 2014, Metrorail served a reduced commuter market, as well as a large event on the National Mall, the Concert for Valor. Metro ran a modified rail schedule, with near-peak service levels throughout most of the day, and Blue Line trains replaced with additional Yellow Line trains.
Compared to a Typical Weekday:
- Total ridership for the day was 515,000 trips, which is about 80% of a typical weekday
- The AM Peak commute was roughly half of a typical weekday.
Compared to Veterans Day 2013:
- Ridership was up by around 40%, or 147,000 trips.
- Ridership at most stations was up by about 25-50%, while five stations serving the National Mall doubled and tripled last year’s numbers.
- Federal Triangle and L’Enfant Plaza were over quadruple last year’s ridership
- Ridership at Arlington Cemetery was down by half, coinciding with reduced service to that station.
- The morning commute (until 9:30am) was up 13% over last Veterans Day, evenly across most stations. This is another sign that when the federal workforce, most impacted by the drop in the federal transit benefit, is (mostly) removed from Metrorail’s commute market, ridership is up.
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%.
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).
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.
Some observations emerge from this: Read more…
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:
Wiehle 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:
- 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).
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:
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…
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.
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…