Annual Metrorail ridership continued to decline this fiscal year, according to a new report released by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The report attributed the decline to a shrinking federal workforce in the D.C. area, more people working from home, and growth in different modes of transportation, like Capital Bikeshare and additional bus routes.
Metrorail’s ridership increased by 50 percent from 1996 to 2009, from 150 million annual trips to 225 million trips. The system initially fared pretty well when the recession hit in 2008 and 2009, but since then, ridership has largely declined. In the report, which is used for revenue projections and to determine the overall fiscal year 2016 budget, it cites sequestration, the retirement and nonreplacement of older federal employees, and the slowing of military efforts abroad as factors as to why the recession hit Metro in 2011 and 2012.
In 2009, Metro ridership was at a high of about 225 million riders, and it is now slightly more than 200 million annual riders.
The report states:
The Washington region is in a transition period as federal employment declines. That transition is posing a challenge to Metrorail, and this challenge will be felt in the FY2016 budget. But as outlined here and in the Momentum plan and update, forecasts indicate that future population and employment growth will remain strong for both the region and Metrorail.
Metro also says a reduction in federal transit subsidies has hurt its bottom line. These subsidies once covered all or most of people’s commutes into D.C.——even the longer commutes from far out suburbs on the Metro line. Because of this, Metro could raise its fares regularly without risking significant ridership loss. But now, someone who parks his or her car in Shady Grove, for instance, and takes the Metro into the city would face fares of about $16 a day, or $320 per month—-far above the monthly subsidy of $130 per month.
But in the long term, the report says, the forecast looks good for the rail system. An overall boom in the D.C. area will help, as well as growth in sectors outside the federal government, like health and education. The population of the region, according to the report, is expected to grow by 13 percent by 2025.
Chart via WMATA