Brookland-CUA Station Rises to the Challenge of Papal Proportions

October 5th, 2015 No comments

Brookland-CUA station enabled over 24,000 trips for visitors attending the papal events at the Basilica on Wednesday, September 23, 2015. 

Brookland-CUA Metro station in Washington The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the Catholic University of America campus is in the background. Photo Credit: AgnosticPreachersKid at English Wikipedia

Metrorail can handle crowds for most events downtown where the demand can be shared across a variety of stations and lines.   The papal mass at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, however, required a little extra planning.  The Secret Service was in charge of the regional planning of the event, and as the event approached Metro staff became aware the event would have a ticketed attendance of 25,000 people and that an additional 15,000 people might amass outside the venue to watch the ceremony on the jumbo-trons and try to catch a glimpse of the Pope on his way in and out of the area.  Preparing to enable safe and efficient trips for up to 40,000 customers at a station with one of the smallest capacities in the system required some extra effort. Read more…

Toronto’s Airport Connections are on the Up and “Up”

September 28th, 2015 3 comments

On a recent trip to Toronto, Metro planner discovers a new rail link.

I flew up to Toronto in July of this year for a fun weekend trip, flying into Pearson Airport.  I’ve traveled up there a few times in the past year and try to take transit between the airport and downtown when schedules allow.  Each time, I check transit schedules via Google Maps to determine whether or not transit from the airport makes sense to me.  This most recent time, I discovered something odd:  a new transit connection from the airport I hadn’t seen before, simply labeled “UP“.  Curious, I googled it and discovered that a new rail transit link had just opened between Pearson Airport and downtown Toronto’s Union Station, with two stops in between.  Being a transit nerd, I had to check it out.

The new UP train operates between Toronto's Union Station and Pearson Airport.

The new UP train operates between Toronto’s Union Station and Pearson Airport.

Read more…

Metro to Create First Regional Open Transit Schedule Data Feed

September 14th, 2015 2 comments

Metro is coordinating with other regional agencies to release a single data file that will contain schedule data for all transit operators in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.

Over 10 years ago, Metro began coordinating with local bus operators and commuter rail agencies to incorporate all of their transit schedules into wmata.com Trip Planner.  It took some time and effort, but eventually Metro reached agreements with all the operators in the region and began to consolidate transit schedules in one online, searchable data source.  In fact, Metro’s Trip Planner is the most comprehensive online data source for regional transit trip planning.  So much so, that when the Transportation Planning Board (TPB) needs to update their four-step travel demand model they request all of the region’s transit schedules from Metro and we deliver them as a General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) file.

Over two years ago, we posted here a data visualization of that GTFS file developed by STLTransit.  GreaterGreaterWashington subsequently published a post advocating for the public release of this regional GTFS file, arguing that it would fill a big gap in regional online transit trip planning.  There are two primary benefits of Metro releasing this file:

  • Sites and app developers can load one data file for all the region’s transit instead of downloading separate files for each agency.
  • Only some agencies in the region publish their own GTFS files, and releasing this file will make several agencies’ schedule data available online for the first time.

Over the past two years, Metro staff have worked to negotiate the release of this GTFS file.  We were pleased reach out to the other regional operators in July requesting sign-off on a regional data-sharing agreement that would permit Metro to release the other agencies’ data online in this GTFS format.  We are excitedly awaiting executed agreements from the operators, and we’ve received one back already, thanks RideOn!  Once we have received a few more replies, we will begin to publish a regional file including the data of all agencies that have executed the agreement.

In the meantime, feel free to contact your local bus, commuter bus or commuter rail operator and ask that they expedite the signing of this regional transit schedule data sharing agreement.

Categories: Engage Tags: , , , ,

Metrorail Ridership – Back on Track

July 21st, 2015 No comments

Metrorail ridership stabilized in FY 2015, and that’s exactly what we said would happen.

We’ve seen from previous posts that total Metorail ridership had been experiencing its cyclical swoon following the housing bust and economic collapse of 2008.  Despite the volatile market, system ridership stabilized over the last few years – this past year may mark the beginning of the next phase of Metrorail ridership growth.  In Fiscal Year 2015, average weekday Metrorail ridership grew by just over 1.5%.


The biggest swing of course is the difference in October: in October of 2013, we experienced the ridership loss due to the prolonged Federal Government shutdown; that didn’t happen in October of 2014.  Another interesting difference is that in FY 2014 there were five snow days during the winter, compared to only two snow days during the winter of FY 2015.  So, even when discounting the October effect, ridership was still up slightly year over year – a good sign for Metro and the region that helps support its services! And of course, the new Silver Line stations are helping to drive growth as well.

Meanwhile, we are continuing to experience strong growth in Metrobus routes where we have executed operational innovations.  Metro stands ready to work with jurisdictions and replicate these successes elsewhere.

This isn’t the end of the story.  The region’s pipeline of transit oriented development is going to accelerate this ridership growth, and in the next post we’ll provide just one example by detailing the expected ridership impacts of the exciting new project proposed for Rhode Island Avenue.

Categories: Engage Tags: , ,

Taylor Swift vs. Nationals – Hit Singles, but No Home Run

July 17th, 2015 6 comments

Ridership from neither of the two back-to-back sold-out Taylor Swift concerts at Nationals Park this week generated as many riders as an average Nationals baseball game.

Entries at Navy Yard by fifteen-minute period, Orange and Gray were nights of the Taylor Swift concerts.

Pop star Taylor Swift brought her 1989 tour to Washington this week, playing two sold-out concerts at Nationals Park, adjacent to the Navy Yard-Ballpark Metrorail station.  According to Swift, approximately 45,000 people attended each concert.  That’s a lot higher than a normal Nationals game, as the concert had seating on the floor as well as in the stands.  One would hope that such big crowds would bump up Metrorail ridership higher than the Nats.  You might be disappointed. Read more…

Metrorail Rider Incomes – A Closer Look

June 29th, 2015 5 comments

Salaries of actual riders are needed to paint a true picture of Metrorail ridership by line.

The Washington Post recently featured a series of images from the You Are Here project of the Social Computing Group at MIT showing Metrorail median income by line and station.  We were digging into it and realized it uses median household income within a half-mile radius, and not that of the actual riders’ households.  While we’ve mapped low-income riders before, we set out to answer the question, “What is the actual average income of Metrorail riders by line and station?”   Along the way, we developed this interactive data visualization.


Screenshot of Metrorail rider income by station visualization. Click image for full interactive version.

The biggest overall difference between our work and that of the MIT group is higher  household incomes at end-of-line stations on the eastern side of the region.  These stations, while located in lower income areas, have large parking facilities that draw commuters from all over the region and beyond. Read more…

Metrorail Revenue by Station – Visualized!

April 15th, 2015 6 comments

Where and when does Metrorail generate the most farebox revenue? So far the data reinforces the notion that ours is a truly regional system with strong revenue contributions from all jurisdictions – but of course, the story is far more complicated than that…

What kind of rail system is Metrorail? Urban subway? Commuter rail? Hybrid? The answer of course is all of the above. And if that is the case, what kind of ridership and revenue patterns should its stations and system exhibit? High levels of peak revenues with heavy commuter lot usage but relative inactivity during the day? Lower levels of peak period activity but a steady stream of usage throughout the day? Depending on your perspective (and travel patterns) one might argue for either, and it might seem easy to apply a blanket classification to Metrorail and declare that “only urban stations cover their cost” or “commuter stations contribute largely to Metrorail’s revenue picture.”

Well, when you throw the data up on a map, it becomes clear that there are no easy answers, and no one right way to view the revenue picture of our tri-jurisdictional hybrid rail network. Some conclusions from the data are intuitive, some less so. Among them:

  • Differences in ridership across stations are bigger than differences in revenue, so ridership is a stronger explanation of differences in revenue than fares. For example, Shady Grove’s average fare in the AM Peak is $5, which is twice as much as the smallest average fare. On the other hand, ridership at Shady Grove is ten times higher than other stations, so the ridership better explains the station’s revenue.
  • In the AM Peak, the terminal stations dominate in terms of revenue contribution. Union Station functions as an internal “terminal station,” meaning that the commuter rail and Amtrak connections to Metro are extremely important to the overall ridership and revenue picture.
  • Other stations with strong bus or commuter park-and-ride infrastructures also pop in the AM Peak, such as Silver Spring and Grosvenor.
  • Note how well the non-Silver line stations in Virginia perform in the AM Peak, as well as the somewhat expected better performance of the Shady Grove branch of the Red Line in the AM Peak.
  • In the PM Peak, the core is king. Stations like Farragut West and North, Metro Center, L’Enfant Plaza are producing $50,000 apiece every evening thanks to their job densities, reinforcing the importance of improving their capacity for the future in Metro 2025, as well as their huge importance to revenue today. By comparison, in the AM Peak, only Shady Grove and Vienna approach these levels of revenue at roughly $40,000 per station.
  • The New Carrollton and Largo Town Center branches of the Blue/Orange/Silver Lines contribute significantly less revenue than other branches, and this directly relates to the relative lack of transit-oriented development along these spines.  The station areas on these lines enjoy a superb level of rail connectivity to the region’s primary job cores, but without sound transit-oriented investments to-date, they have not yielded the type of ridership and revenue commensurate with the capital investment. Imagine what Metro’s revenues (and farebox recovery) could look like if these segments were properly developed!

We’ve been examining the data ourselves as we continue forward with Momentum’s call for us to ensure financial stability for the Authority and have created the visualization for you to play with. We’d love to know what you see!

Monitoring (and Caring About) Customers, Not Just Trips

April 13th, 2015 2 comments

Deep explorations into the composition of Metrorail’s customer base shows that Metro has a wide reach – and that the five-day-a-week rider may not be as common as you think.

Metro (bus and rail) moves 1.1 million people per day, right? Well, technically we see that many trips (transactions) per day, but how many individual customers is that?  When you look at your fellow passengers on-board a train, how many are frequent commuters? How many rarely ride? In addition to counting trips, we’ve begun to monitor customers – the number of unique SmarTrip cards and paper tickets used on the system in a month.

We’re starting with Metrorail at first.

Metrorail typically handles roughly 730,000 trips on a weekday, which are generated by about 400,000 unique customers. Some of those customers ride frequently, and others will ride only once in the month.  As the chart below shows, of the 730,000 trips, only about two-thirds are generated by frequent customers.  Not surprisingly, frequent customers dominate more during the peak times.

Sept 2014 ridership by frequency by period_bars

Typical weekday rail ridership (trips) by customer’s monthly frequency (trips/month)

Surprisingly, over 17% of all trips are generated by customers who take eight trips/month or fewer– that’s fewer than once per week.  That may not seem like much, but in order for infrequent customers to generate so much of our ridership each and every day, there must be a LOT of them! Read more…

Silver Line Ridership Patterns – Visualized!

February 23rd, 2015 1 comment

Learn about the travel patterns of Silver Line riders in rich, interactive detail with this new tool.

Click on the dashboard below to see where Silver Line rail riders are going, coming from, and by time of day and day type.  This is simply a visualization of the October 2014 rail ridership data we recently posted.  What patterns do you see? What jumps out at you?

Are Low Gas Prices Impacting Ridership at Metro?

February 11th, 2015 7 comments

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):

Historical gas prices, Washington region

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…