Metro riders are finding a new way to avoid train delays: Ditching the Metrorail system entirely. So says a new report by the Metro’s Finance and Administration Committee, set to be introduced at a board meeting Thursday.
After a 50 percent increase in ridership between 1996 and 2009, daily rail ridership declined 5 percent in the past five years, the report finds. While the number of customers using the system has remained stagnant (with 710,000 weekday riders in FY2015), the report says customers have taken fewer trips in recent years.
The report credits the decline in ridership to concerns over pricing, a growth in alternative transportation options such as bike- and car-sharing, and “concerns by customers over service quality and reliability.” Rail on-time performance has consistently lagged below target, the report adds, leading riders to budget more time in their commutes.
The report suggests that the incidents that plagued the Metro system in 2015—including a deadly smoke incident on the Yellow Line outside L’Enfant Plaza in January, a train derailment near Smithsonian in August, and a transformer fire at Stadium-Armory last month—are at least partially to blame.
“There is preliminary evidence that these events are impacting ridership,” the report writes, adding that “Metrorail is also struggling to provide reliable service to customers.”
The relatively slight decrease in ridership is a big deal, since revenues from Metrorail ridership represent 80 percent of all Metro fare revenue. But Metro revenue is still growing, if only due to regular fare increases. Bus and rail fares have increased steadily since 2004: Local bus fare by 40 percent and maximum rail fare by 51 percent.
To increase revenues and compensate for a loss in ridership, the report suggests several changes, including a “University Pass” program to provide local university students with “unlimited ride products.”
The program isn’t the only change likely to come to Metro. Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended direct federal oversight of the transit agency, citing a “lack of independent safety oversight” in the system.
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery.