The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority presented a report Feb. 4 revealing the lowest levels of Metro ridership since 2004, coinciding with financial analytics firm SmartAsset’s release of its rankings the same week that named Washington’s Metro system the best public transit in the United States.
SmartAsset also named the Metrorail’s ridership the country’s second largest in its survey, although the metro’s weekday riders have declined by six percent, and weekend riders have declined by twelve percent since fiscal year 2015, which began in July of 2014.
Metrorail ridership experienced consistent growth from 1996 to 2009 — from 150 million yearly trips to 225 million. Because of a revitalization of urban centers, 2011 marked the beginning of a steady and unprecedented decline in ridership.
According to the Metro Budget Report on Ridership and Revenue, the drop in ridership affected all stations, time periods and trip types.
Unlike the public transportation systems of New York and Chicago, which charge flat rates of less than three dollars per ride, D.C. Metro has a base fare and additional, variable charges depending on distance and time of day.
The District’s public transportation system is one of the most expensive in the country. A monthly unlimited pass costs $237, more than double the cost of New York City’s $116 and Chicago’s $100. The report cites this as a possible reason for the decline in ridership. Fare increases were enacted in July 2014, making Metro bus fare $1.75 from $1.60, base rail fare $2.15 from $2.10 and maximum rail fare $5.90 from $5.75.
Since 2004, bus fare has increased by 40 percent, while maximum rail fare has increased by fifty-one percent. According to data gathered in FY 2015, low-income riders made up 51 percent of weekday Metrobus riders whereas 12 percent would be considered high-income. For the Metrorail, 12 percent of riders are low-income and 50 percent are high-income.
The report does not cite one overarching reason for the ridership decline but highlights a list of possible causes, including the popularity of alternative modes of transportation such as bikes and rideshare services, fare pricing concerns, low gasoline prices, poor service quality and reliability and safety incidents.
Safety incidents in the past year include the Yellow Line tunnel incident outside of L’Enfant Plaza in January of last year, the midday shooting on the Green Line, the derailment of a train near Smithsonian in August and a fire at Stadium-Armory in September.
Additionally, the report noted the unreliability of on-time rail service.
“Metrorail is also struggling to provide reliable service to customers. Rail On-Time
Performance, which measures how evenly-spaced the trains are, has been consistently below target, particularly since the opening of the Silver Line,” the report reads. “Riders are experiencing more unpredictable travel times and must budget more time to reach their destination.”
WMATA Media Relations Manager Sherri Ly said Metro is doing its best to alleviate the ridership decline.
“Improving reliability and the safety of our riders is key to bringing customers back to Metro,” Ly wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We are also exploring options for a monthly pass, as well as a university pass for students and adding bus services to the current short trip rail pass.”
Many students at Georgetown, such as Caroline Crinion (SFS ’19), use MetroRail to commute to internships or to reach other parts of the District. Crinion, who works in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, commutes for an hour daily on average.
Crinion said that sometimes, she is forced to use other means of transportation because of the lengthy wait time for the Metro.
“In a rush or at times when my class goes over time, I’m forced to take an Uber, which takes half the time if not less, and the cost is around $11 when traveling at non-peak times,” Crinion said. “Uber is more convenient. Being picked up at the front gates and transported directly instead of switching buses and trains is easier. I also think time is a big factor, as if I need to save on time, I Uber.”
Anthony Buonomo (COL ’16) commutes via MetroBus to his internship at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Headquarters. Buonomo said that he spends an average of 45 minutes commuting by bus from Georgetown and prefers to bike to work if possible.
“Sunshine, wind and workout in the morning surely trumps sitting in the dark, fake, tube,” Buonomo said.
Buonomo said he doubted that he would begin to use MetroRail to commute to and from work.
“I don’t think anything would make me consistently take the Metro,” Buonomo said. “Maybe if it wasn’t so grey, and people weren’t so sad.”
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