The Long View: Fiscal Year 2015 Bus and Rail Ridership Summary

September 22nd, 2015

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.

FY2015 Ridership Year in Review

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.

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