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Circulator ridership, and subsidy, grows

By Luke Rosiak

Not long after Metro figures showed that Metrobus ridership has declined significantly in recent years, a new online dashboard from overseers of the Circular bus system allows users to track metrics such as ridership and safety, and it shows that ridership has increased significantly.

But costs were nearly $4.30 per ride for the Waterfront line, and the Smithsonian-National Gallery loop recouped only 6 percent of what it cost to run via rider fares, the tool also showed. The overall subsidy jumped from $890,000 in May to $1.1 million in September.

Some had speculated that declining Metrobus ridership was partially a result of passengers being drawn to the Circulator, with its expanding number of routes and cheaper $1 fares.

The system's costs were $1.3 million in September, up from $1.1 million a year ago and nearly double what it was two years ago. Revenue from passengers in September was $273,000, and cost per rider averaged $3, with subsidy per rider reported at about $2.50.

Circulator ridership was about 450,000 in September, compared with 400,000 a year prior, and 240,000 the year before that.

Of the two routes added in the spring of 2009, the Woodley Park-Adams Morgan-McPherson Square ramped up to around 120,000, while the Union Station-Navy Yard route quickly stabilized at under 30,000. An all-time high for the Georgetown-Union Station-K Street route occurred in July 2009, at nearly 260,000 rides.

The percentage of buses arriving within 15 minutes of the prior bus has steadily declined from 87 percent in March to 73 percent in September. But during the morning rush hour, buses traversed the K Street route fewer than 7 minutes apart about half the time.

The most frequent customer complaint--comprising half of all comments--is that the Circulator failed to service a stop. There are stops nearly every block, but many are sparsely used, and they are less well-marked than their Metrobus counterparts.

When it comes to safety, there were 30 accidents in September 2009, resulting in five injuries, and a high of 12 accidents deemed "preventable" last April.

As transit systems try to wean customers off of bottleneck-inducing cash and change payments, the Circular has done well. Only 17 percent of customers paid cash. About 37 percent of those paying by SmarTrip received a discount for transferring from rail (50 cents) or rode free by transferring from Metrobus--a testament to the system's ability to bridge gaps in the existing transit system.

The dashboard is part of an initiative by the District's technology office to use computers to empower citizens to monitor government agencies.

By Luke Rosiak  | November 4, 2010; 1:50 PM ET
Categories:  Commuting, District, Metrobus, Transit  | Tags:  Circulator, Online tools  
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You can, for the most part, rely on the Circulator. It shows up, unlike the awful Metrobus.

Posted by: Trout1 | November 4, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Wow, transparency! Accountability to customers! Can they teach Metro?

Posted by: DOEJN | November 4, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse


Look at the subsidy per passenger.

Posted by: yell53 | November 4, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

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