People are choosing methods of transportation other than Metrorail and Metrobus due to unreliability during the past three to four years, causing a drop in ridership, according to an internal ridership report from May.
People who frequently ride Metrorail or Metrobus are taking fewer trips in favor of alternative methods compared to 2015, according to an internal Metro ridership report from May of this year.
The internal ridership report became public last week; however, it includes a May 2018 publishing date. Someone leaked the report to employees at The Washington Post, who then enabled the document to be publicly accessible online.
“This was an internal staff-level document – just one of many that will be used to inform the budget process,” Metro spokesperson Sherri Ly said of the report.
Some riders took fewer trips on Metro and Metrobus than a few years ago because service was unreliable, according to the internal ridership report. The Metro report cites the District of Columbia Office of Revenue Analysis, “Metro vs. Uber: travel time and cost,” published in October 2017. Sometimes the Metro is cheaper than ride-hailing, and in some situations, it is consistently faster than ride-sharing.
“A recent analysis found Metrorail is faster than Uber for 59 percent of trips analyzed during the evening rush hour and cheaper for all trips,” according to the report. “It concluded that ‘Metro is especially efficient to the suburbs that do not require transfers.’ Conversely, short trips requiring transfers favored Uber.
The D.C. report indicated that wait times for departure can sway riders’ travel decisions.
“The time competitiveness is also sensitive to wait times, however, and Uber is faster for most trips during periods with longer wait times on Metrorail,” according to the Metro report.
Other riders may not choose Metro and instead opt in favor of ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft because the wait time was shorter, according to the report, citing a report from D.C. government.
Metro Chief Operating Officer Joseph Leader has said Metro must try to restore ridership that has dropped compared to 2015, because Metro needs the fare revenue to continue funding its operating budget, along with subsidies from D.C., Maryland and Virginia governments.
More people are telecommuting, or working from home, at least some of the time – leading to a 10-percent decrease in weekly ridership, according to the internal report. “In recent years, telework has eaten into Metro’s market share for commute trips,” according to the report.
The drop in the number of passenger trips in the Washington region per day was greatest for riders who take more than 41 trips per month. These riders, or what Metro calls “super riders,” made up more than half of the ridership drop during the last three years, according to the report.
“Since 2015, the number of super riders dropped by half, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the ridership decline,” according to the report.
The report also included actions Metro could take to improve some issues that deter riders.
Ridership dipped when Metro instituted SafeTrack – General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s year-long maintenance and repair program, which was characterized by reduced service, station shutdowns and single-tracking long term, from mid-2016 to spring 2017.
According to the internal report, Metro must move away from changing riders’ perception of “perpetual maintenance,” because it has caused some riders to ride Metro less often. After the conclusion of SafeTrack, riders continued to experience service disruptions for capital projects on different lines, routinely. One way to move away from “perpetual maintenance” is to increase the amount of work performed on a section of closed track at a time.
Engineer Gus Ubaldi of Robson Forensic, who helped design Metro’s tracks in the 1970s, responded that the need for maintenance is not unique to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
“Everything is [an] era of perpetual maintenance,” Ubaldi said. “Everything should be a system of continuous maintenance – it should have been that way for 40 years.”
Ubaldi said he supported Metro’s attempts at bringing back riders. The suggestion to add crossovers or turnarounds to certain rail lines could might be feasible, but he needed to know the suggested locations of the crossovers before he could be sure.
In recent years, bus trips have gradually been taking more time to travel the same distance, according to the report. Eliminating some of the stops on a bus route could make the trip take less time for riders, according to the report. Another idea was eliminating the use of cash on buses, requiring riders to have funds on their SmarTrip cards before they board. RideOn Bus, the bus service in Montgomery County, has recently been piloting cashless buses.
Metro Board member Mike Goldman, who represents Montgomery County, said he was glad he had the opportunity to read the internal ridership report, which he had not seen prior to the publication of the Post story.
“I think it’s a very useful document,” Goldman said, “because it does lay out a number of options either for increasing service or making service more convenient on both bus and rail.”
Goldman said he did not support the idea of adding crossovers to try to increase ridership by about 10,000 trips, because he would prefer to improve rider experience or provide favorable options, instead of trying to increase the number of people riding the trains. The upgrades could cost $30 million.
Goldman said he hopes that some of the report’s recommended actions for improving bus ridership will appear in the suggestions resulting from the Bus Transformation Project.
The $2.2 million Metro-funded study is a regional bus study examining bus-service models. Metro General Manager Wiedefeld spoke at the consultants’ kickoff of the study in September. Metro spokesperson Sherri Ly said that contractor AECOM is running the bus study, not Metro.
The Bus Transformation Project will consist of stakeholders from the region involved in government, transportation, business and other groups. These stakeholders will examine and consider changes to not only Metrobus’ service model, but to those of bus services provided by the jurisdictions, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, which help fund Metro.