2012 Metrorail Survey is Underway

April 20th, 2012

As you may have heard, the 2012 Metrorail survey is underway.  There has been quite a bit of discussion online about the survey, so we thought the survey team would use this opportunity to better explain the purposes of the survey

The primary purpose of the survey is to gather data to support operating and planning activities.  Metro reports ridership coming from each of the eight jurisdictions in the Metro service area, and the survey provides the most scientific approach to estimate ridership by jurisdiction.   In some areas, this is a bit complicated as many residences are technically located in a jurisdiction that is different than that listed on their mailing address, and zip codes don’t provide any help there either.  The survey results are “geocoded” using street address and zip code to determine the survey respondent’s jurisdiction of residence.

Additionally, we are asking about transit subsidies received by our riders.   The 2012 survey differentiates between fully subsidized and partially subsidized riders, expanding our understanding of how our riders make decisions related to fares.  And the survey asks if and where riders are transferring within the Metrorail system.  With the survey data we can develop a clear picture of true transfer volumes at key stations.  This information will help us better plan for future capacity enhancements at transfer stations, including Gallery Place and L’Enfant Plaza.

Below is a list of questions we’ve been asked, and our concise answers.  Below the FAQ are some results from the 2007 Metrorail Passenger Survey.  Feel free to ask any additional questions that we’ve missed in the comments section below and we will try to respond as best we can.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: The survey started on April 13, but I haven’t received a form yet.  When will you survey my station?

A: This survey uses statistical methods to capture a representative sample of our ridership.  On a given day, survey forms are being given out at a handful of stations.  To ensure that the survey remains statistically representative, we do not disclose the survey schedule to the public.  Please rest assured that you will likely receive one or more survey forms if you are a regular rider.

Q: I got a survey form last week and today I got another one.  Should I fill it out?

A: Yes!  This is a survey of trip making patterns, not of individual riders.  As such, every time you are handed a survey you should fill it out and submit it either in the drop boxes, by mail or online.

Q: Isn’t that double-counting?

A: No, it’s not.  We distribute survey forms to riders at a given station only once per time period (weekday, weekend, after midnight) over the duration of the survey.  If you get the survey form on two different days, you’ll be getting it from two different stations or perhaps at the same station during different time periods.  We want an accounting of each of those trips, so we ask that you fill in the form each time one is handed to you.

Q: Why do you need my street address?

A: As noted above, determining the jurisdiction of residence of our ridership is the primary purpose of this survey.  Unfortunately, many zip codes cross jurisdictional lines. As such, we need to know your street address to best determine your actual jurisdiction of residence, not just what’s on your mailing address.  Please rest assured that this data is not used for any purpose other than geocoding the survey results.

Q: Why does the survey ask about income and race?

A: As a recipient of federal funds, WMATA must comply with federal regulation such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Title VI of the act and its implementing regulation and associated executive orders require that we ensure meaningful participation in transportation planning processes by minority and low income populations in our service area, and distribute transportation costs and benefits equitably among all populations. We ask demographic questions on all our surveys to help us meet these requirements.

Q:  Can’t you get all of the survey data you’re asking for from the SmarTrip usage data?

A:  No, we can’t.   The primary importance of this survey is to gather data on jurisdiction of residence from a statistically significant sample of our ridership.  This data cannot be gleaned from SmarTrip usage, even if we were to look at registered SmarTrip card holders, as that wouldn’t be a representative sample of our ridership.  Secondarily, but also very important, data on income and race are required to ensure compliance with federal regulations (see previous questions), and that data cannot be gathered from SmarTrip card usage.   Trip purpose is a very important data dimension captured by the survey that is otherwise unavailable.

Q:  This is a survey but there’s no place for me to add my thoughts.  Why not?

A: The purpose of this survey is to gather data for planning and funding purposes.  We perform it every five years and use the same survey statistical control so that the results can be compared over time.  Please consider it a Metrorail passenger “census” rather than a customer satisfaction survey.  Comments about customer satisfaction can be directed to our customer comment form.  For other ways to contact Metro, please visit the Contact Us page of our website.

Q: Are Metro employees handing out the survey forms?

A: No, our survey contractor has a dedicated and experienced staff of survey distributors who are passing out the survey forms to riders within the paid area of the mezzanines.  While they may appear as WMATA employees because they are wearing safety vests, rest assured that no essential work is being delayed due to this survey.  Metro has a handful of employees from the offices of Customer Research and Long Range Planning who are supervising the survey team on a daily basis.

Q: What does the survey cost cover?

A:  The survey contract covered development of the survey form, determining the sampling selection, implementation planning, staffing the survey distribution, gathering and encoding the data, summarizing the data and producing cross-tabulations and reports.

Q: How can riders with visual disabilities take the survey?

A: Survey respondents can ask the survey staff who provided the form for assistance in filling it out. Otherwise, the respondent can call in responses or fill in the form online.  We have verified that the online version of the survey is compatible with BrowseAloud, Metro’s licensed reading assistance software.

Q: Why don’t you ask whether the rider is disabled?

A: While it could be useful to have that level of knowledge about our disabled riders, the word “disability” covers a wide range of meaning. It would be difficult to gather detailed data on riders with disabilities on a survey of this magnitude with such a constrained survey form.


Conclusions of Note from the 2007 Survey

  • Conducted the survey between April 17 and May 24, 2007, previous survey was in April/May 2002.
  • Distributed surveys to 36% of weekday Metrorail passenger trips with a response rate of 25%
  • 27% passengers lived in DC, 40% in MD, 29% in Virginia and the remaining 4% from elsewhere.
  • Outer suburban jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia showed  faster ridership growth than jurisdictions inside Metrorail service area, such as Baltimore, Charles, and Loudoun
  • Evening off-peak  (after 7pm) showed the most ridership growth at 22% over 2002. The 2007 survey saw an increase in trips for non-work purposes, such as shopping, social gathering and sporting events during evening period.
  • More passengers walked or rode bus to Metrorail stations during the morning peak period, with walking mode share at 33%, bus at 22% including Metro and local buses, park-and-ride at 29%.
  • Bicycle access, though at less than 1% of mode share, showed 60% increase since the 2002 survey.
  • 20% of the trips were made by riders who don’t own cars
  • 34% of daily trips are made by federal employees, (41% during AM peak period)
  • 60% of daily trips are made by riders who walk to destinations upon exiting the system (83% during AM peak)

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  1. Harita Rao
    April 20th, 2012 at 11:22 | #1


    I filled out a metro survey. Would like to find out where I can get a survey online. I am disabled and I take the metro everyday to work and to friends places. That is my only way fo transporation. I remember when I had an appointment at Foggy Bottom, the driver of the orange line did not stop at that station and just passed by it and I was late for my appointment. Also, Metro machines in the metro took my $20 bill and they did not return it. You have to make the metro safer for disability people. There is a lady who is blind and takes the metro everyday to work.

  2. Michael
    April 20th, 2012 at 11:26 | #2

    @Harita Rao
    Hi, Harita. Thanks for filling in the survey. Each survey form is coded with a unique ID that links it to a station where it was given out. You can fill in the survey online, and the web address is listed on the survey form. However, you will need that code I mentioned to link it with the survey you were handed. Please submit your complaints about the Orange Line problem you had and the issue with our ticket vending machine to our customer service site.

  3. Linda Baer
    May 1st, 2012 at 19:31 | #3

    I ride btwn Pentagon City and L’Enfant Mon thru Fri. I arrive at Pentagon City btwn 9:00 & 9:30 AM. And often at L’Enfant before 8:00 PM. I never see anyone handing out surveys. Are you including the “later” people who commute regularly?

  4. Michael
    May 2nd, 2012 at 09:48 | #4

    @Linda Baer

    Hi, Linda.

    Our contractors are out there distributing surveys from station opening to station closing. We have all mezzanines of each station covered during the survey distribution period. However, since this is a scientific survey, the forms aren’t distributed to each person who enters the station.

    Our records show that L’Enfant was sampled last Thursday, April 26. Did you enter the Metrorail system at L’Enfant Plaza that day?

    Pentagon City has not been sampled yet, and is scheduled for later this month.

    Thank you for your interest in the 2012 Metrorail Passenger Survey!

  5. Drew Ha
    May 3rd, 2012 at 13:04 | #5

    Comment removed for being in violation of our terms of use.

  6. Matt
    May 30th, 2012 at 15:59 | #6

    Hi Michael,

    Nice article. I’m an intern over at Maryland State Highway Administration. I’d like to pick your brain about some info. Can you contact me at the email given at your earliest convenience?


  7. Matt Dickens
    May 10th, 2013 at 10:54 | #7

    Are there any plans to release the results or any data from the survey?

Comments are closed.