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…
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…
Many pledge to leave their car at home for a day on Car-Free Day September 22,but 20% of Metrorail riders don’t own a car and go car-free every single day!
Of course, Metrorail riders from zero-car households vary significantly across the stations – from over half of all riders at places like Columbia Heights, Benning Road, and Dupont Circle – to less than 10% at more suburban areas like Rockville, East Falls Church, or Franconia-Springfield. The diagram below shows the share of riders who live in a zero-car household, by station:
Of course, ridership varies across stations too, so the next diagram shows the total number of rail riders from zero-car households:
In addition to riders who are completely car-free, many others come from “car-light” households of one or no cars. 58% of Metrorail riders come from “car-light” households. For many, access to Metrorail and Metrobus and other transit services is a big reason they can drop down to one or zero cars and still get around. In fact, DC’s zero-car households number is climbing, with 88% of new DC households car-free. For others, car ownership is a heavy financial burden they may not be able to afford. Stay tuned for a coming post which estimates riders who are car-free by choice, vs. by necessity.
Do you live in a car-free household? How does Metro help meet your mobility needs?
The data shown here is derived from our 2012 Metrorail Passenger Survey and the raw data is available (.xlsx, 19k).
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.
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:
More households in the walkable area around a Metrorail station means higher ridership