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).
Metrorail ridership isn’t only about rush hour! Here’s a deeper look at why off-peak riders travel, and what segments are most traveled.
You may not be surprised that the peak period travel on Metrorail is dominated by commuting and business related trips. Every day from opening to 9:30am, nearly 90 percent of passengers travel to work and business. However do you know that over almost a third of daily ridership takes place in the off peak? This post explores what is happening during weekday off-peak periods.
The weekday “off-peak” time typically refers to the weekday midday period (9:30am to 3:00pm) and the weekday evening period (from 7:00pm to closing), excluding late night service on Friday and Saturdays between midnight and 3:00am. In recent years, weekday off-peak travel demand has remained stable at 32 percent of the daily ridership, with the midday ridership at 19-20 percent and the evening ridership at 12 percent.
Most non-work trips, such as personal, recreational, and shopping trips, occur during the off-peak times and are spread fairly evenly between the midday and evening, as illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Percentage of Non-Work Trips by Time of Day (2012 Metrorail Passenger Survey)
We all know improving station access is good. But, how do we rank access projects relative to each other? Step 1: Ridership
In our recent post, we gave you an overview of our Station Access Investment Strategy project. We’ve identified 1,000s of recommendations for new pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure near our Metrorail stations and need a way to prioritize them. After some thought, we’ve come up with a number of potential criteria. In this post, we’ll discuss those that deal with ridership.
Map of the Southern Ave walk shed from July 2014 Post on Ridership Potential from New Ped./ Bike Projects
Once again, one of key concepts we’ve been telling you about in recent months is that by improving access to stations we can grow ridership. For stations with relatively small walk sheds, we’ll conduct a detailed analysis of what happens to the walk shed when the proposed projects are built. For example, add a sidewalk at Cheverly and the walk shed will grow by X%. We will then look at the amount of households and jobs in the newly connected area and, using some methods we’ve shown you in other posts, calculate the potential ridership gained by the new project. The higher the potential ridership gain, the better the project scores.
But, we also want to understand the value of a new project to a part of the station that is already connected to the network and how this could relate back to ridership. To do this, we’ve come up some other metrics. They include: Read more…
As Fiscal Year 2015 drew to a close last month, we figured it’s time to take the long view: how did ridership do this year?
On the whole, for an average weekday over the last year:
Rail ridership was up by 1.5%, in part due to the introduction of the Silver Line.
Bus ridership was down by 1.4.
Rail ridership was up largely due to the federal government shutdown in October of FY14.
Metrorail had a good fall and winter, while Metrobus started the fiscal year well but struggled in the winter and spring months.
Seasonal Trends. All changes in ridership are best shown as a comparison to the same time last year, because ridership rises and falls as the seasons change. Traditionally, ridership is lowest in the winter, and peaks twice: one in late March/early April for the Cherry Blossoms, and then again in June and July when tourists and outdoor activities are in full swing. August is usually slow, and then ridership levels stabilize again in the fall.
Metrorail is more sensitive to seasonal swings than Metrobus. In FY15 for example, ridership in June is 25% higher than December on rail, but only 10% higher on bus.
Some rail stations are much more seasonal than others.
The most steady stations are largely residential stations in D.C. like Benning Road, Columbia Heights, Georgia Ave-Petworth, and Potomac Ave.
The most variable stations serve tourist hotspots, and/or other seasonal markets (Congress and baseball!): Arlington Cemetery, Smithsonian, Navy Yard-Ballpark, Capitol South, and Woodley Park-Zoo.
Metrorail had a strong October this year because of last fall’s government closure, but interestingly on Metrobus this phenomenon was hardly detectable. Federal workers make up 35-40% of Metrorail ridership, but 14% of Metrobus ridership, so while October this year was strong, we may have had a good month even without last year’s shutdown. Much of Metrobus’s small net loss in ridership for the year is due to February and March of this year, when bad weather impacted both bus service and ridership, above last year’s levels. Excluding those months, Metrobus ridership for the fiscal year was basically flat.
Structural Forces. Metrorail ridership continues to grow at stations with growing transit-oriented development, especially along the Green-Yellow lines in D.C., NoMa station on the Red Line, and many stations in Arlington. The new stations on the Silver Line are also growing net ridership, although judging from September numbers, roughly a half to two-thirds of Silver Line ridership is former Orange Line or bus riders. The line finished its first eleven months of service at around 60% of opening year projections.
These gains have been offset by losses in Metrorail’s traditional commuter markets elsewhere in the system. Metrorail has been losing longer trips to the core at peak periods from commute-oriented stations, particularly for longer trips (roughly 7 miles or more). These losses are effecting many markets, but are concentrated on riders paying their fares using the SmartBenefits program, whose benefits were significantly reduced starting in 2014. More customers are forced to pay out-of-pocket when SmartBenefits run out, and ride less as a result. Meanwhile, ridership from customers unaffected by the program is stable or perhaps even up.
Bus services on the eastern side of D.C. are growing ridership, such as the X2, routes serving Anacostia station, the B2, and more. The Y-lines on Georgia Ave in Maryland, and buses on Leesburg Pike in Virginia have been performing well. These gains are offset by losses on the 14th and 16th Street NW corridors in D.C., and linehaul services in Maryland such as the Q-lines on Viers Mill Road and the J-lines on East-West Highway. Reversing a long-term trend, Metrobus has seen a shift from SmarTrip to cash after the cash surcharge was dropped this fiscal year. Cash payments were up slightly at the end of the fiscal year, even though they remain a small portion of fares paid overall.
How did your home station fare in FY15? Find every station below:
Want even more details? Download the raw data directly via the Tableau links, or explore even more visualizations (some more interesting than others) by looking at the other tabs for Rail and Bus.
Technical notes: all figures presented here are preliminary, and presented as year-over-year comparisons. All monthly data is adjusted for the number of day types in each month. Rail ridership data have been adjusted to correct for minor data losses due to equipment problems. Silver Line stations are shown as “100% ridership growth,” to reflect that this is the line’s first year and thus year-over-year data is not available.
Metro has released its first sustainability report, with aggressive performance targets to guide the Authority and the region on the path to becoming the most sustainable in the nation.
Metro Sustainability Report 2015
As Metro’s Silver Line celebrated its first year of service in July it is timely to revisit the Metro’s first Sustainability Report. Released in April, the report outlines the sustainability benefits that the Silver Line and the Metro system as a whole bring to the region. The opening of the Silver Line has resulted in mode shift changes — as indicated by a 15% reduction in peak hour traffic at multiple intersections along Route 123 — combined with emerging transit-oriented development and walkability improvements around the Silver Line. These underscore the Authority’s progress towards the ridership, climate change and connected communities goals of Metro’s Sustainability Initiative – as documented in the Authority’s first annual report.
Even though Metro doesn’t control where new jobs and households locate in the region, these decisions are critical to the agency’s ridership and financial future.
It is well known that the form and intensity of development in and near rail transit station areas can have measurable impacts on transit ridership. For these reasons, transit oriented developments (TOD) generally feature high-density construction, mixed land uses, and bike and pedestrian friendly infrastructure. But not all TODs are alike, and the effects of TOD on transit ridership are likely to depend on how well the station is connected both locally and regionally, whether the station is near the center or end of a transit corridor, and what kinds of jobs and household are located nearby.
To explore how different forms of development might impact ridership on the Washington Metrorail system, Dr. Hiroyuki Iseki and Dr. Chao Liu assisted Metro to develop a direct ridership model (DRM), called Metro’s Land Use Ridership Model. A DRM uses statistical techniques to quantify the relationship between entries and exits at rail stations and land uses nearby. This model can then be used to estimate the number of passengers who will access the station, by waking or biking, as a result of changes in land use features, transit service characteristics, and socio-demographics within the walkshed of any given station.
The direct ridership model includes a large number of variables for each station, including the density, diversity, and design of local environment; transit service and connectivity; job accessibility by auto and transit; walk score; the availability of parking; the demographics of nearby residents; the number and types of jobs nearby, and more. The model was estimated for the AM Peak, Midday, PM Peak, and Evening travel periods. The AM Peak model is best suited for estimating the increase in morning boardings that would result from locating more households near the station; the PM Peak model is best suited for estimating the increase in afternoon boardings that would result from locating more jobs near the station.
Map 1. Predicted AM Peak Entries per New Household
The impact of adding jobs and households near stations varies by station area. Map 1 above, for example, shows the estimated entries per new household in the morning peak—that is, how many additional boardings would occur in the AM peak if one additional household was located in the walkshed of the station. Stations shown by red dots gain more than 0.57 boardings per day, for each new household in the walk shed, while stations shown with green dots gain only about 0.20 boardings per day. As a concrete example, Rhode Island Row is a 274-unit, mixed-use, TOD project built on a WMATA site. Situated along the busy Red Line, the project has long been considered as a prime location for new housing development. According to the DRM model, adding 274 new households near the Rhode Island station would increase boardings by 144 passengers in the AM peak. The same development at the New Carrollton station, however, would have added only 52 passengers. This is because, compared to New Carrollton, the Rhode Island Avenue station has better job accessibility and more frequent transit service, and is thus likely to stimulate more transit ridership. Read more…
In our analysis of station walk sheds — the area within a half-mile walk of the station — we discovered that the Rhode Island Avenue walk shed is constrained by physical barriers that force pedestrians to make lengthy detours. The most notable of these is a retaining wall along the northern edge of the redevelopment site (currently the Rhode Island Center shopping mall):
Current walk shed of Rhode Island Ave station, with illustration of the retaining wall.
A redevelopment project planned for Rhode Island Avenue Metro station, one of the largest such projects in the District, could bring $2.3M per year in new fare revenue for Metrorail.
A venture led by MRP Realty is proposing a mega project near the Rhode Island Avenue metro station, which when constructed would add over 1,500 residential units and retail to that transit-oriented community. That’s fantastic news for the District, which needs household growth to resolve its structural fiscal deficit, and also for Metro and the region, which benefits each time we add transit-oriented development that drives ridership and revenue.
Image Courtesy MRP Realty
At Metro we find this especially exciting because it is yet another example of how changes in development are in part fueling a ridership resurgence. Our Land Use-Ridership model conservatively suggests that this project will yield an additional 3,200 rail entries per day systemwide, generating rail fare revenues of around $2.3 million per year. Whether this ridership actually materializes – or is even higher – depends on the developer building good pedestrian connections to the Metro station and the Met Branch Trail.
In addition, this project could be a good opportunity to create a pedestrian connection between the station and the neighborhoods to the north, where potential Metrorail riders are blocked from the station’s “walk shed” today. The current conditions include a challenging combination of grade changes and physical barriers behind the shopping mall, creating pedestrian barriers outlined in red below. The key question will be whether the development will help fix the barrier along the north side of the site, which would only increase the ridership- and revenue-generating potential of this project.
Pedestrian barriers in red. Image courtesy Google Maps
The property tax benefits of the project all accrue to the District, and the increased revenue to WMATA doesn’t come for free – the system will need to handle the additional passengers and incur additional operating costs and potential wear and tear on the system. Right now there isn’t a defined mechanism for WMATA to recoup the value of real estate property taxes to fund capital renewal or expansion. But certainly anything that contributes to the operating health of the transit agency through increased ridership and revenues goes a long way to promoting financial stability for the Authority, as well as lowering the operating subsidy burden it requires to run the system.
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.