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).
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 West. Now 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.
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…
Categories: RTSP BART, BRT, corridors, DRPT, Light Rail, Metrorail, plans, ridership, Streetcars, tod, transit-oriented development
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…
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…
May 2013 and 2014 Metrorail ridership data is available: what patterns do you see?
Following up on our last data download of rail ridership from May 2012, 2013 and 2014 are now available. These data now represent three “snapshots” in time of rail ridership, at a very fine level of detail. This data can help answer questions, such as: where is ridership growth the strongest? Which destinations are becoming more or less popular? How has off-peak vs. peak ridership changed?
May 2013 Metrorail Ridership by Origin, Destination, TimePeriod, DayOfWeek (.xlsx, 3.3 MB)
May 2014 Metrorail Ridership by Origin, Destination, TimePeriod, DayOfWeek (.xlsx, 3.4 MB)
We invite you to tell us what you see, in the comments.
Technical notes on the data are the same as the last post. This time, Saturdays and Sundays are shown in the same worksheet as weekdays.
New sustainable water treatment systems used to cool underground Metrorail Stations are projected to save Metro millions of gallons of water and hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
This month, Metro completed one of its first Sustainability Lab pilot projects – the installation of state-of-the-art water treatment systems at seven (7) chiller plants on the Metrorail system. The project will result in an estimated 400,000 gallons of water savings per location annually.
Metro’s Station Cooling and Water Tower System
Metro planner captures some smiles of excited Silver Line customers on camera opening weekend.
Baby’s first Metrorail trip on SV’s first day.
I offered up my Saturday on a recent weekend to participate in something really cool, the opening of the new Metrorail Silver Line. Metro has a program where employees can help out during special events or scheduled trackwork to guide customers through the fare vending machines or navigate bus bridges. I took advantage of this opportunity because I knew it would be something special.
During my six-hour shift at McLean, I saw a lot of happy people excited to be among the first to ride the new rail line. There were only a few times that I was moved enough to capture the moment on camera. The first is the picture above, a one-month baby with his Silver Line commemorative SmarTrip card, taking his first trip on Metro. Let’s hope it will be the first of many to come. Read more…
Here’s a map showing the walkable area around the nearest Metrorail station.
Did you ever wonder which Metrorail station is closest? Where’s the breakeven point between two stations? This map shows the areas you can actually reach within a half-mile walk along the roadway network, as we described previously. The twist this time is that I disallowed “overlap” within the GIS network analysis, so land is allotted to the closest station only, calculated by network walk distance.
What do you see in this map? Here’s a regional view with all stations, as well.
Update 9/2/2014: the GIS source file for this map is now available for download, in geodatabase (.gdb) format.
To handle future ridership demand, Silver Spring may need a new mezzanine to connect Metrorail to the planned Purple Line light rail station.
Last year, we began a study looking at potential station capacity issues at Silver Spring. The assessment determined that the demand at the Silver Spring Metrorail station (entries and exits) is adequately served by the existing station infrastructure. Since then, the study has assessed the future conditions that will be impacted both by ridership growth due to growth of jobs and households in the station area, but also the arrival of the Purple Line light rail to Silver Spring.
The Purple Line station at Silver Spring is planned as an elevated platform and mezzanine, with the mezzanine connecting to the top floor of Silver Spring Transit Center, Metropolitan Branch Trail, and Ripley Street to the south. The elevated light rail platform will be approximately 80 feet above the street, about the height of the current MARC pedestrian bridge. The MTA design team envisioned a possible direct connection between Metrorail and the Purple Line, as illustrated in the red shape in the center of the above image. Without such a connection, riders transferring between Metrorail and the Purple Line at Silver Spring would have to descend those 80 feet to the ground level, enter an existing Metrorail mezzanine, and then ascend again to the Red Line platform. Read more…