‘Metro 101’

Metro’s Federal Customers: A Snapshot (1 of 5)

November 19th, 2015 No comments

Think Metro is all about getting the federal commuters to work? Think again!

(First in a series of posts on Metro’s customers who are Federal Government employees)

Just as the workforce in the Washington region has a sizeable share of federal workers, so has Metro’s ridership.  Metro serves major federal employment centers downtown, and even boasts stations named for the federal sites they serve, like Federal Triangle, Medical Center, and Pentagon. But while Metro has a long supported the federal government, it’s a myth that Metro is all about federal government commuters and nothing more. Federal workers are a minority of riders and have been for years, and federal funding is playing an increasingly smaller role in Metro’s finances.

So just who are Metro’s federal customers?  When and what do they ride? Where are they coming from and going to, and how has this changed in the last decade? The next series of posts seeks to answer just that, using passenger survey data (bus and rail) where customers identified as employees of the federal government or not (contractors excluded).

How Many, Where, and When? About 27% of all Metro weekday trips are made by federal workers – a total of 317,000 boardings across bus and rail.  These federal employees can be anyone from a nurse at Walter Reed Medical Center, to a military officer at the Pentagon, to a Congressional staffer on Capitol Hill.  The majority of these trips (255,000) are made on Metrorail, where federal workers make up 35% of all boardings (all-day).  The remainder – just over 60,000 boardings from federal workers – happen on Metrobus, where riders are generally less likely to be federal workers (14% of all bus boardings are federal).

Pct Fed Workers by Mode and Period Read more…

Transit-Oriented Development’s Return on Investment

November 16th, 2015 No comments

For at least the past decade, the region’s real estate has revolved around transit.  That is expected to continue for the next decade, and we can already see signs of its impact along the Silver Line, according to a new report.

We’ve been highlighting the impact that Metro has on the regional economy for many years now.  From the Regional Benefits of Transit study which highlighted the quarter of a billion dollars in incremental tax revenue that the jurisdictions enjoy each year solely because of Metro, to recent data which highlights that almost all of the development pipeline in the D.C. region is within walking distance of Metrorail, it’s crystal clear that this region’s economic future is inextricably linked to Metro.

Joining the library of compelling evidence of this is recent information from CoStar and Transwestern.  They have been monitoring the development pipeline and activity in the region and have had a special eye trained on the Silver Line.  Here’s what they found: Read more…

The (Hidden) High Cost of Cheap Real Estate

September 24th, 2015 5 comments

As jurisdictions balance the need to redevelop “prime” Metrobus garage sites, new facilities are located in less desirable and cheaper real estate submarkets.  That may sound like great business sense, but it has an impact on non-revenue (or “deadhead”) mileage, creating scheduling challenges and adding millions of dollars in additional operating costs to operate Metrobus service. This trend will increase into the future.

Today, Metro dispatches 1,634 buses for 315 bus routes from only nine bus garages spread throughout Virginia, the District, and Maryland. In a perfect world, Metrobuses would magically appear at the start of a bus route and no additional costs would be incurred. In reality, many bus routes begin far from their assigned bus garages, and travel long distances before they can begin service.

Excluding our two youngest bus divisions (both replacement divisions built in the last five years), the median age of our bus divisions is 61.5 years. These facilities need more than just tender loving care to keep up with today’s service demands.  For example, older garages are not equipped to deal with modern buses (the 70-year-old Royal Street bus division was literally too short for modern buses). And only two garages, Four Mile Run in south Arlington and Bladensburg in northeast DC, are equipped to handle Metro’s 457 compressed natural gas (CNG) buses.  So often times Metrobus needs new facilities despite the tantalizing prospect of simply refurbishing old ones.  These new facilities fall under the category of “LULU” – Locally Unwanted Land Use.  Many do not want to live near a bus division, but if the region wants bus service, we need bus garages.

So, bus divisions get pushed out farther and farther from central locations and the neighborhoods where the customers are.  All sounds logical so far, except for the fact that the buses now need to travel further to start revenue service.  All of this extra journey time simply to get from the division to the customer adds extra deadhead miles to each route. That deadhead is now starting to cost big bucks.

Since 2007, increased deadhead miles have added $5 million to the cost to operate Metrobus.

Since 2007, increased deadhead miles have added $5 million to the cost to operate Metrobus.

Since 2007, Metrobus’ total operating costs have increased $5 million to cover an increase of 1,700 daily deadhead miles. Closures of bus divisions have had a large impact on operations, steadily increasing daily deadhead miles from the 22,500 mile baseline. The 2008 closure of Southeastern Bus Division (now the Half Street Fairgrounds) as part of the Navy Yard/Nats Park redevelopment caused daily deadhead miles to jump nearly 2,200 miles. Most of the remaining DC garages and Southern were forced over their normal capacity limits, and some service was shifted to Montgomery Division. A year later, the World War II-era Arlington bus division closed and capacity was shifted to the new West Ox Division in Fairfax County. Shepherd Parkway Division opened in 2012, 4 years after its predecessor Southeastern closed, bringing overall deadhead miles about 600 miles shy of the 2007 baseline. Two years later, the Royal Street bus division in Alexandria closed, increasing miles once again.

Metro had intended to hold off closing the Royal Street bus division until after the opening of Cinder Bed Road. The project was substantially delayed to accommodate neighborhood concerns, and we were unable to mitigate the 1,127 mile increase in deadhead during the protracted delay.

The animated graphic below shows the change in deadheading between 2007 and current.  Read more…

Two Business Challenges Facing Metrobus

September 2nd, 2015 5 comments

In the past 17 years, Metrobus has faced dual challenges: increased competition and increased roadway congestion.

Market Share Decline 1998-2013 v2

A past post discussed the role of the 1997 Blue Ribbon Mobility Panel in resetting the regional role and funding structure for Metrobus. In the decade-plus since then, several trends have emerged:  Local operators are rolling out more and more bus service, and buses are getting slower.

Read more…

Preparing for the Future of Metrobus

August 17th, 2015 2 comments

Since the signing of the WMATA compact more than 40 years ago, there has been an ongoing debate about the role of Metrobus as the Washington region’s primary bus service provider. 

Prior to the formation of Metrobus in 1973, bus services in the Washington region were operated by numerous private providers across the region operating on dedicated lanes, many of which were operating at a loss.  In the 1970s, Metro consolidated bus service under the Metrobus brand and increased service and headways throughout the WMATA compact area.  While Metro’s role as the regional rail provider has always been clear, its role as a bus provider has been more nuanced.

Old DC Transit and Metrobuses from the 1960s and 70s

This is the first in a series of posts which aim to provide a brief overview of the efforts undertaken over the past 20 years by Metro, and its regional partners,  to balance the responsibilities and funding of Metrobus with the wants and needs of our jurisdictional partners all while maintaining our regionally focused mission.

Read more…

Study: Just Six Tracks Carry 30% of People Across the Potomac (57 Highway Bridge Lanes Carry the Rest)

July 29th, 2015 2 comments

A new Virginia study (PDF) finds that Metro and other transit operators carry a major portion of all cross-Potomac travel in a just a few crossings, using far less space than the 57 highway bridge lanes that carry the rest. If built, an expanded bridge crossing will need transit to maximize its ability to move people across the river.

PotomacRiverStudy Map

Transit’s Role is Critical

While some media outlets focused on the study’s highway expansion recommendation, the presentation acknowledged that Metro, VRE, and other bus operators plays a major role in the movement of people across the river from Virginia to DC in the core of the region. Seeing that, we thought we we’d drill down further to estimate how many people are actually crossing the river, using which bridge, and by what mode. Supplementing the study with available transit ridership data and vehicle occupancy data (PDF), we arrived at the following estimates: Read more…

Where Are Those Rail Riders Going?

May 12th, 2015 4 comments

Ever wonder where rail riders are going to and from? Here’s a map that shows you.

“What are the destinations of riders at Station X?”  It’s a question we get often here. Well, using October 2014 rail ridership data by origin and destination, it’s pretty easy to answer that question – click below for an interactive map.

OD Rail Viz preview

Click for a larger, interactive version of Metrorail ridership information by origin and destination station

Metrorail Ridership Projections – Looking Ahead

March 11th, 2015 8 comments

Historical data and regional growth projections tell us one thing – Metrorail ridership will rebound and grow right along with the region, and the system better be ready to carry the load.

Crystal City Sta -am Rush 060912-129

Metrorail riders enter and exit Crystal City during the AM rush hour, June 2012.

Local ridership trends that seem to defy a national boom in public transit usage give some pause about the need for planned transit expansion projects.  It’s no surprise that even the most ardent of transit supporters might be caught flat-footed when trying to defend infrastructure investments against the backdrop of scarce funding.  Some have even gone so far as to question whether Metorail ridership, which just a few years ago looked poised to eclipse 800 thousand trips per average weekday, is experiencing more of a structural downshifting and may experience flat or even declining ridership for the foreseeable future.

All of this debate is understandable in a town obsessed with statistics and “horse race” leaderboards.  But when it comes to economics, demographics, mobility, and infrastructure, regional leaders need to look beyond the numbers d’jour and bet on a sure thing – Metro ridership will go up.  Here’s why:

1. Short-term snapshots of rail ridership miss the forest for the treesOr maybe even just leaves.

The graph below shows Metrorail average weekday ridership from the beginning of Metrorail. You can see that ridership grew in the first five years as the system grew from just the Red Line and four stops in 1976 to adding Orange and Blue Lines in operation by 1980. And after all of that expansion was completed, something fascinating took place – ridership declined and essentially flatlined until 1985. During that time, the region didn’t stop investing in Metro. On the contrary, during that same time period Metro built the Yellow Line and extended the Red Line from Downtown into Upper NW DC and then all the way to Shady Grove. Ridership shot up again in the late 1980s while Metro extended the Orange Line to Vienna and the Red Line to Wheaton then flat-lined and even declined through the mid 1990s, all while Metrorail added capacity on Yellow and Blue and (finally) opened up the Green Line. From 1997 through the late 2000s Metrorail saw robust ridership increases despite minimal capacity increases – largely reflective of the underlying economic and demographic resurgence of the central city and its urbane suburbs – and ridership flat-lined in tandem largely with the economic collapse of 2008 and the prolonged Great Recession.


Read more…

Transit Walk Sheds and Ridership

August 11th, 2014 10 comments

Metro cares about transit walk sheds because more households accessible to transit by walking translates directly into more ridership.

We’ve been focusing a lot on transit walk sheds lately. We’ve shown that the size of a transit walk shed depends heavily on the roadway network and pedestrian infrastructure, and that these sizes vary dramatically by Metrorail station. We’ve also demonstrated that expanding the walkable area can make hundreds of households walkable to transit.

But why do we care so much about walk sheds? Because larger walk sheds mean more households in the walk shed, and that means ridership. For example, we’d be hard pressed to find many households in Landover’s small walk shed, so it’s no surprise that walk ridership at that station is low. On the other hand, thousands of households are within a reasonable walk to Takoma’s larger walk shed, and walk ridership there is much higher.

In other words, the more people can walk to transit, the more people do walk to transit – and data across Metrorail stations prove it:

Correlation between Households in the half-mile walk shed, and AM Peak ridership, by WMATA Metrorail station entrance

More households in the walkable area around a Metrorail station means higher ridership

Read more…

Eight-Car Trains on Metro is Equivalent to Widening I-66 in Arlington by Two Lanes

July 14th, 2014 8 comments

Adding two extra cars to a six-car Metrorail train might not seem like much, but it is equivalent to widening I-66 through Arlington by two lanes. Plus, it’d likely be cheaper and faster for commuters, too.

Sometimes it’s hard to wrap one’s head around how just many people Metrorail can move. But where Metrorail operates in heavily congested corridors, seemingly small improvements can yield big results. In fact, matching the capacity of all eight-car trains system-wide would require 16-18 lanes of freeway into downtown, each way.

Orange Line Metro train from I-66. (Photo by wfyurasko, click for original)

To match the capacity of eight-car trains on Metro, we’d have to widen I-66 in Arlington by at least two lanes. (Photo by wfyurasko, click for original)

In Arlington for instance, going to eight-car trains on the Orange Line as part of Metro 2025 is like widening I-66 by two lanes.  Let’s do the math:

  1. One lane of highway can move around 2,200 cars per hour, at its theoretical maximum.
  2. Today, every morning Metrorail runs about 18 trains per hour eastbound on the Orange Line through Arlington, and about a third are scheduled eight-car trains. That’s a train every three minutes, and equates to around 121 rail cars per hour, or 12,060 passengers per hour.
  3. By 2025 with eight-car trains, Metrorail will be able to run 21, eight-car trains per hour eastbound on the combined Orange and Silver Lines, which equates to 168 cars per hour.
  4. This means Metro 2025 will bring the line’s capacity to 16,800 riders per hour, or an increase of 4,740 passengers per hour.
  5. To accommodate 4,740 more people on I-66 at 2,200 cars per hour, 2 people per car, we’d need 4,740 / 2 / 2,200 = 1.1 highway lanes in each direction.

That means we’d need at least two new lanes on I-66 to match the capacity of Metro 2025. In addition, eight-car trains would be cheaper, and would likely move people faster through the corridor.

  • Eight-car trains on Metro would be over two times cheaper: the estimated cost to widen I-66 works out to about $3.50 per rush-hour trip over the life of the project, whereas Metro 2025 would be about $1.50.
  • Metrorail would likely move travelers faster than I-66 in the end.  Orange Line trains today normally run at around 35 miles per hour, while congested travel speeds on I-66 average around 18 miles per hour. While new highway lanes might move cars faster at first, the improvements would eventually be eroded by growing congestion.
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