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