Approximately 86% of the region’s new office construction is occurring within one-quarter mile of Metrorail stations, 93% within the half-mile walk sheds.
A Washington Post article from October 2013 made a staggering assertion: That 84% of new office construction in the region is occurring within one quarter mile of a Metrorail station, according to Jones Lang LaSalle and other data sources. As we continue to dig into walk sheds and the land-use/transportation connection, we thought we would revisit this assertion and update it for 2015.
Since the Post article was written, we have begun to plan for near-term capacity constraints that might result from increased ridership caused by new households and jobs near Metro. And part of this planning is gaining insight as to where and when new housing units and office space may come online through real estate industry data sources. Through this research, we are able to update the statistic above:
86% of new office construction in the Washington region is occurring within one-quarter mile of a Metrorail station.
New office currently under construction in the Washington region. All but four projects are within a half-mile of Metrorail. Data from Jones, Lang, LaSalle.
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!
In Part Two of this series, we forecast the impact of the region’s near-term development pipeline on Metrorail ridership, using the Land Use-Ridership model. The good news? Metrorail ridership is set to show big gains. The bad news? Your ride just got less roomy.
Just as we were putting the finishing touches on this post, we saw a flurry of news articles detailing the regional market forces that portend increased rail ridership. Millennials choosing not to drive, even as they grow up. Office parks in far-flung places experiencing devaluations while Metrorail-adjacent areas capturing the lion’s share of new leases. Marriott announcing that it will seek a transit-accessible location when it moves. And even defense contractors coming to bat to argue for the economic benefits of the Purple Line. All of this free publicity set us up nicely for what we wanted to share with you – the first results of the Office of Planning’s Land Use-Ridership model as applied to near-term development projects.
The Near-Term Pipeline. Researchers at Jones Lang LaSalle have been compiling a list of actual development projects – under construction, or planned – near Metrorail stations, so that we can forecast the near-term capital needs for the system. A huge amount of development (over 105 million square feet!) is on the books for within a half-mile of a Metrorail station.
Map of near-term development projects near Metrorail, by building type (click for full image)
So, How Much Ridership? What impact will all of this have on Metrorail? We ran these projects through the Land Use-Ridership model, and what we found was both intuitive – and startling. Read more…
Station-area walkability is one of the most potent congestion-busting tools in the planner’s bag of tricks. Now we’ve mapped out in detail which stations are living up to their full potential – and where we need to redouble our efforts.
We’ve brought to you information about the power of station area walkability. Not only does better station access give mobility benefits to those who most need it, but it also boosts ridership and revenue and therefore lowers Metrorail’s operating subsidy. That means lower taxes for you and me.
Metro’s Office of Planning is wiring the science of walkability into WMATA’s Key Performance Indicators. We are committed to working with our partner jurisdictions to improving station area access and identifying the near-term and low-cost improvements that have big returns for ridership and revenue. And we have been working diligently to develop a comprehensive geodatabase of walk sheds and the land uses – existing, planned, and proposed – located within them.