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Ridership, Revenues Looking Up

Because the fare and fee increases haven't discouraged people from riding Metro, the transit authority staff won't be requesting the 25 cent rise in parking fees that remained an option after the Jan. 6 hikes.

But what do you make of this: Despite the largest cost increases in Metro's history, rail ridership remains strong. In fact, it didn't just hold steady, it grew 6 percent in January, 4 percent in February and 3 percent in March.

The budget staff expects a 3 percent growth over the next few months, hence the confidence that Metro will hit the revenue target of $109 million by July that it sought from the higher fares and fees.

At the fare hearings late last year, speaker after speaker talked about abandoning Metrorail, or at least about the prospect that many others would abandon Metrorail.

Are gas prices the only explanation as to why that didn't happen? Was there some inertia involved? Is transit use less "elastic" (as the economists say) than we thought?

Metrobus use held steady. Because the cost of riding went up only a dime -- and stayed the same if you used a SmarTrip card -- I thought some people might shift from train to bus. That apparently didn't happen either.

And in case you're wondering, Metro officials have been tracking the rail ridership each month, but they never seemed to be gloating over the numbers. Whenever General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. was asked about it, he didn't say, "It's because we're doing a wonderful job." He'd say, "gas prices."

By Robert Thomson  |  May 5, 2008; 3:48 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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We have to pay it. Doesn't mean we have to like it.

Posted by: dkf747 | May 5, 2008 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Guess it's all in how you crunch the numbers. Point of origination stats would be nice, as would adjustment factors to see whether ridership would otherwise have been steady if not for tourist/special events, e.g., Nats games, Papal events, Cherry Blossom festival. Guess it doesn't much matter for a bottom line, but such broad declarations don't give you much of a feel for the commuting ridership.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 5, 2008 6:55 PM | Report abuse

I'd also be interested in knowing if people have chosen to take shorter trips (like drive to Grosvenor instead of Shady Grove), or have shifted their trips to off-peak hours. This should be available data since you can look at SmarTrip cards in use before the increase vs. those same cards after the increase.

I know I certainly think twice about taking rush hour trips between Woodley Park/Zoo station and Shady Grove since you get nailed for the full $4.50, vs. $2.35 off-peak. Thats almost double! My morning commute is pretty inflexible in that regards. But after work if I have a choice between jumping on the Metro immediately and doing a few quick errands up in Gaithersburg before getting on the train, the fare will play into that decision somewhat.

Posted by: Woodley Park | May 5, 2008 10:50 PM | Report abuse

Catoe is right. Metro is not doing a much better job than they have been in the past, though there have been some improvements. (The Nats games have been mostly well-handled, for one, though let's see how they do with this switch repair on the weekends during the upcoming series.) Demand for rush-hour transit use is somewhat inelastic, and gas prices are high.

What would be interesting to me is data on the non-rush-hour use of Metro, especially the weekends. Are that many people really abandoning the system to drive, due to the delays caused by constant maintenance?

Posted by: Lindemann | May 6, 2008 8:44 AM | Report abuse

I dunno. For me, after Metro jacked up the fares, it was the same price to drive vs. Metro. So I drive now.

It's much nicer. I know that my A/C is going to be working. I know I'm not going to be smushed. I know that my doors won't open up while I'm on the highway... :)

Posted by: Bob | May 6, 2008 9:54 AM | Report abuse

I actually did start riding the bus instead of the train. It saves me $3.60 a week (not much, but it's a tall Starbucks drink) and takes the same amount of time when you factor in what would be my 12 minute walk to the nearest metro station. Plus I always get a seat and can comfortably read the entire Express before I get to work.

Posted by: Van Ness | May 6, 2008 10:36 AM | Report abuse

I hope gas keeps going higher and higher. We will finally get our country and our neighborhoods back. Most of all, we will get our health back. The automobile destroys communities. Everybody knows that instinctively. How does the addition of each new car improve my neighborhood and the health of my children? Is it really necessary to move bedroom sized vehicles that way 5,000 pounds a few miles for every single transaction? Driving is for dinosaurs. It is old, tired, obsolete, and, quite possibly the worst thing that has happened to American culture since the nation began.

Posted by: David | May 6, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Amen, brother David.

Posted by: Tom | May 6, 2008 11:48 AM | Report abuse

I have to take the Metro to work, but I have abandoned it on weekends. It's not worth the wait.

Posted by: Alexandria | May 6, 2008 12:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm curious if there has been a shift in ridership to off peak times as well. I know I have shifted my schedule at work a bit so that I enter the station at 9:30 and pay the reduced fare (saves me $7.50 a week so not huge but it adds up).

Posted by: Laura | May 6, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

David, get off the eco-Nazi soapbox. Go set up a commune in North Dakota and leave everyone else alone.

Posted by: Laurie | May 6, 2008 12:37 PM | Report abuse

"Peak" is defined so broadly that very few people can escape it.

Posted by: Laurie | May 6, 2008 12:38 PM | Report abuse

"For me, after Metro jacked up the fares, it was the same price to drive vs. Metro. So I drive now."

n = 1 = small sample size

Posted by: Lindemann | May 6, 2008 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Lindemann, can you count past 1, dumbass?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 6, 2008 1:59 PM | Report abuse

The only reason ridership is up is because the recent increase in gas prices outpaced the increase in metro.

Posted by: Robert G | May 6, 2008 3:02 PM | Report abuse

What we need is a real economic downturn with actual lost jobs and a shrinking economy so all these riders don't have anywhere to go. Please, please end this record period of growth!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 6, 2008 3:50 PM | Report abuse

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