Author Archive

Introducing S.W.A.R.M. – Another Tool For Your TOD Toolkit

August 11th, 2016 1 comment

A new tool helps estimate ridership and revenue from transit-oriented development projects near Metrorail stations.  Download it for yourself!

Waterfront Sta aerial

For months we have been detailing our work that quantifies the relationship between land use and rail ridership. This is important because Metrorail has been experiencing large changes in ridership, and we were interesting interested in understanding why certain station areas – like Navy Yard and NoMa – were showing ridership gains while the system as a whole is experiencing losses in the long arc of ridership growth.

To get to the bottom of this, we worked with researchers from the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth to analyze how walk ridership at a Metrorail station relates to its surrounding land uses, and create a tool that accurately estimates the likely change in ridership from changes in land uses. This tool, the Station Walk Area Ridership Model (or S.W.A.R.M., for short), helps us estimate the potential impacts of land use changes – new households, new jobs (by type of employment!), and even changes in the station’s walkshed – on ridership and revenue to Metrorail. Read more…

Walk This Way – Metro’s Planning Office at APTA’s Rail Conference

July 11th, 2016 No comments

Metro shared its Station Area Investment Plan with the APTA Rail Conference attendees – and met with rave reviews.

I recently had the opportunity to present our Station Area Strategic Investment Plan to the over 1,500 attendees at APTA’s Rail Conference.  Many thanks to APTA’s Sustainability and Urban Design Standards program for footing the bill for this trip to Phoenix. It was 117 degrees there, and tested even my desire for walkable urbanism, but that’s another story entirely.

The presentation highlighted the Office of Planning’s work to quantify the return on investment of station area accessibility improvements, work with local jurisdictions, to prioritize these improvements based on an analytical platform, and identify the appropriate funding mechanisms to get these improvements built.

Read more…

TOD in Prince George’s County Getting off the Ground

July 7th, 2016 1 comment

Prince George’s County’s bold new vision for transit-oriented development deserves attention and support!

For more than a decade, regional planners and economic development officials have lamented the relative lack of development around Prince George’s County Metrorail stations, and yours truly had opportunities to challenge its leadership to up its game in accelerating transit-oriented development policy and practice more than a few times.  On this blog, we’ve highlighted how lack of development has hindered ridership growth from the County, and we’ve articulated the benefits that would accrue to the region if Prince George’s County were to achieve the development potential of its Metrorail stations – in fact, Metrorail might just run an operating surplus if those areas were developed.

Now we all have reason to cheer and hope that these challenges and aspirational goals might be more than just wish lists and a hope certificate.

TOD in Prince Georges County Mar 2016 Read more…

Growth Mode or Stuck in Neutral? Or Both?

June 27th, 2016 2 comments

Population and jobs are up, but regional travel is down – Why? The very nature of trip-making may be changing in this region.

Crystal City Sta -am Rush 060912-129For several years, we have been reporting internally and externally about declines in Metrorail ridership. Our most recent rail ridership numbers show continued patterns of ridership levels that are five to eight percent below its 2009 peak, and despite gains in March, the trend in April and May suggests that the ridership patterns that we are seeing now are more structural than cyclical.  The implication here is that Metrorail may be operating at a “new normal” level that is still poised for growth, but growing from a baseline that has been reset at a lower level.

Theories abound about why this is taking place – telework and rail reliability are among the most talked-about culprits – but it’s almost impossible to isolate one cause among many in a time period that also witnessed fare increases, gas prices drop to historically low levels, and wild variations in the Federal transit benefit.

Now we have new information that may present a compelling theory about the declines in Metrorail ridership – the region is making fewer and fewer tripsData recently released by our Transportation Planning Board depicts a startling story of this region’s travel patterns over the last decade or so.  This data tell us that despite economic factors that would normally portend increased trip-making – rising population, household, and employment growth – this region is actually seeing fewer trips overall, regardless of mode. Read more…

Shared Mobility – Complementing Public Transit in the Nation’s Capital

June 27th, 2016 6 comments

In the DC region, shared mobility (Uber, Lyft, etc.) are actually complementary to the transit network. Here’s why we see opportunities to consider even better system integration.

“Transportation Network Companies” – you know them as Uber, Lyft and a host of other brands – are now part of the urban transportation landscape. Some have suggested that the rise of their popularity contributes to ridership decline on Metrorail and still others have heralded their emergence as the end of transit as we know it.  Always focused on investigating trends and proliferating fact rather than folklore, we wanted to know the truth.  Should Metro be nervous?  Are customized trips like these going to put traditional bus and rail out of business?


Research (PDF) published by the American Public Transit Association and Transportation Research Board – and which I had the pleasure of helping to oversee –  tells us that customers of ridesourcing tend to use the services when transit is less available as well as to get to destinations not easily served by traditional transit.  Furthermore, we learned that in the DC region especially, these TNCs tend to function as informal “Metrorail shuttles” – almost two thirds of Uber trips in the District begin or end at a Metrorail station, and slightly more than a third of Uber trips follow that pattern when we zoom out to the entire region.  Similar statistics prevail when examining the usage of car sharing companies such as Zipcar and Enterprise.  Finally, the data indicates that 57% of frequent users of ridesourcing companies as well as car- and bike-sharing customers identified bus and rail transit as their preferred transportation mode.  This tells us that these services have an important role in complementing the Metro rail system for many customers.Source: Lyft Read more…

WMATA Begins a New Capital Needs Inventory

June 6th, 2016 1 comment

Restoring Metro’s reliability and quality requires a comprehensive approach to asset management and reinvestment.


Capital needs include escalator replacement, as pictured here.

In April, Metro staff commenced the important work of updating its Capital Needs Inventory (CNI), a financially unconstrained prioritized plan of capital needs that documents Metro’s infrastructure, vehicle, facility, technology, and system capacity investment needs over an immediate to 10-year horizon, and provides input to the development of the six-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).  This document, which itemizes and prioritizes the capital investment needs of the entire Authority over a ten-year period, not only informs our jurisdictional partners about funding needs, but is now also a component of the federally required Transit Asset Management Plans outlined in MAP-21.  Importantly, Metro’s CNI effort is occurring at a critical time both for the Authority and within the transit industry. Concurrent with recent asset-related failures on Metro’s rail system, international standards for asset management (ISO 55000) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) proposed rules have recently been published that can help guide the methodology and tools used to develop a best-in-class CNI.

Have we done this before?

Awareness of the need to focus on the maintenance and renewal of Metro’s capital assets has existed since the system opened, but a comprehensive approach to long-term planning for the funding and management of capital assets has been lacking for much of Metro’s history. In the early years of Metrorail operations, the focus of funding campaigns was on construction of the full system. Toward the late 1990s, as the 103-mile rail system neared completion, efforts began to quantify capital improvement needs and to increase the size of the capital improvement program budget. Some key milestones during that period included: Read more…

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Estimating the Impact of the US Citizenship and Immigration Facility on Metrorail

February 24th, 2016 No comments

The Federal Government is the region’s single largest employer, and where it chooses to locate its jobs has huge implications for ridership, revenue, and the local operating subsidy.

We recently detailed why the Federal government’s location decisions matter so much to Metro – and you, the taxpayers who help support WMATA through your local taxes.  We’re always keeping an eye on moves within the region and certainly hopeful that any major moves (whether they are in the public sector or private sector) locate near Metrorail.  That’s because locating near Metrorail increases ridership, increases farebox revenue, and lowers the (your) taxpayer burden to support Metro.

Naturally, the news about GSA’s upcoming decision on the location of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services complex (USCIS) caught our eye and wonkiness.  We wanted to know about how much ridership and revenue the different options might generate.


Read more…

Right Underneath our Feet – How Planning, Zoning, and Development Influence Metrorail Ridership

January 12th, 2016 4 comments

Metrorail ridership is heavily-determined by station-area land use patterns, so attention to land use as a transportation strategy will be important to sustaining Metrorail’s long-term ridership growth.

There has been a tremendous amount of attention recently paid to Metrorail’s ridership trends.  While history tells us that the current ridership snapshot – which shows that ridership has essentially flatlined – is quite normal given the cyclic nature of ridership growth, Metro’s Office of Planning has been exploring why certain station areas and rail segments have seen ridership gains during the downturn, while other station areas and segments have seen losses.

Passenger Miles Traveled by Trip Origin at Each Metrorail Station, AM Pea, Full-Fare Riders with no Transit Benefits. One of the inputs from this study.

Passenger Miles Traveled by Trip Origin at Each Metrorail Station, AM Pea, Full-Fare Riders with no Transit Benefits. One of the inputs from this study.

The questions we sought answers to included, for instance:

  • Why is it that while system-wide ridership declined last year, we saw ridership gains at stations with lots of transit-oriented development, such as NoMA, Columbia Heights, and Navy Yard-Ballpark?
  • How much of an impact does transit-oriented development have on overall ridership, and can that impact be measured, both in terms of new ridership as well as in terms of net new farebox revenue?
  • With so many ways to get around – including walking and biking and Uber and Lyft – and gas prices at near historic lows, how does a Metorail trip compare to other ways of getting around in terms of overall competitiveness?
  • Does the location of a transit oriented development project matter in terms of how much ridership it generates?  Does that vary by the type of project (i.e. office, retail, residential, etc)

Read more…

Metro Confidential – Expert Tips to Hack Your Trip

January 7th, 2016 2 comments

In 2016, resolve to travel like a transit pro with these five Metro master tips and tricks.

Even the most seasoned Washingtonian learns a thing or two each day about a tip, tweak, hack, or just plain common sense adjustment to their transit trip that makes their journey quicker, hassle-free, and more fun!  Here are some of our favorites that we hope you’ll try in 2016 – happy transiting!

We've all been there. These tips will help you master train crowding and more. Image: WMATA

We’ve all been there. These tips will help you master train crowding and more. Image: WMATA

  1. Set up Auto Reload – You’ve got more important things to do than fuddle with a 1970s era fare machine or to get stuck at the end of your trip without enough stored value to exit the system.  Set it and forget it to skip this step forever!  Auto Reload allows you to set up stored value and pass products so they can be automatically reloaded to your SmarTrip® or CharmCard® when your stored value runs low or your pass is about to expire.
  2. When it comes to train cars, there’s usually more room up front or in back.  WMATA runs trains in two different “consists” – those with eight cars, and those with six.  For whatever reason, customers tend to gather on the platforms near the middle cars and pack them way too tightly.  Meanwhile, even when the middle cars are overloaded, there is often room in the first or last car in the train (Cars 1 and 6/8).  We don’t know exactly why human behavior fosters “bunching” (we do know that lack of traffic priority fosters bus bunching) but now that you know, try the first or last cars when you want to spread out and/or have a seat.
  3. You’ve heard of Next Bus – try Next Station.  What’s that?  A new app?  New service?  Nope – it’s a handy tip for making your journey simpler.  The next time you’re approaching your destination, try peeking up from your phone and get into the aisle (not vestibule, and please don’t block priority seating if our most sensitive customers are standing!) one stop ahead.  That way you are pre-positioned to exit the train without pushing/shoving through on boarding passengers (or getting elbowed yourself as you slow everyone else down!)
  4. Plan an exit strategy.  I’m a Red Line rider and my office at WMATA is convenient to Judiciary Square.  I try and make sure to board the train at Car 3, door 1.  That way I’m exactly where the escalator meets the platform when I disembark.  Try figuring out your exit strategy next time you travel, or use the Metro Master website.  Which car and door makes the most sense for your journey?  How does that work with/against the tips above?
  5. There’s an App for that.  WMATA works with the developer community to help them help you.  Choose from the multitude of apps out there that help you plan the perfect transit trip.  Is your line running smoothly or gummed up?  Hop on a bus or take the train?  Blue for you or Hello Yellow? Eliminate the guesswork and join the transit technology revolution – you’ll be surprised how much easier your trip is when you app before you tap.

What other tips help you ride Metro like a regular?


When Work Evolves – Metrorail in the Era of the Flexible Workplace

December 21st, 2015 10 comments

Between 2007 and 2012, off-peak work trips were the fastest-growing segment of Metrorail ridership.

The traditional “rush hour” remains important, but Metrorail ridership seems to reflect a broader trend regionally – people are making more and more trips during “off peak” hours. According to the 2012 Metrorail survey, rail ridership growth was stronger in its off-peak (8 percent since 2007) than the peak (5 percent over the same time period). In certain jurisdictions – including those that have fostered re-investment in dense, walkable areas – off peak growth was into the double digits while peak growth grew more modestly. In one jurisdiction, off-peak trips grew by 50% during this period while peak trips grew at less than half that clip. 

Compact Jurisdictions Peak Off-Peak
% Change % Change
District of Columbia 8.3% 12.9%
Arlington County 18.4% 9.0%
City of Alexandria 9.5% 12.7%
Montgomery County 0.1% 5.9%
Prince George’s County -7.4% -1.4%
Fairfax County -1.4% 3.0%
City of Falls Church 21.3% 46.9%
Fairfax City 32.8% 19.4%
Compact Total 3.0% 8.0%

Data sources, Metrorail ridership surveys, 2007 and 2012.  2012 is the most recent dataset we have on trip purpose. 

In the past these trips would be for theaters, late night entertainment, or shift work, but the bulk of these off-peak trips were during the midday – almost twice the number of late night trips – and the bulk of these trips were for work. Read more…