Photo by inked78 on Flickr. The 98 uses this type of bus.

I recently received the Metrobus Performance Report for 2008. You can see the main sheet in PDF or the entire collection in Excel. As you’d expect, worst performers include a lot of the same lines as in 2007. Here they are for 2008:

24T (East Falls Church Metro to Tysons Corner Westpark Transit Station): This bus only averages 189 passengers per day. Fares only pay 9% of operating costs, and each rider costs area governments $7.24 in subsidy, for a total subsidy of almost $350,000 per year. This performance is even lower than last year, with declining cost recovery ratio (defined as passenger revenue divided by operating costs). A much faster, more frequent bus provided by Fairfax County Connector duplicates this route. Metro should eliminate or cut back this line further. There are some people along Westmoreland Street in Arlington and Lewinsville Road in Fairfax County that would lose bus service, but with huge budget shortfalls, Metro needs to divert its funds where they can make a greater impact.

98 (Evening Adams Morgan shuttle): This is still one of Metrobus’ worst lines. DC plans to replace this with Circulator service, transferring the responsibility for funding the line to the District. Oddly, it’s missing from the main table but shows up in each table listing lines that failed to meet basic criteria. Like the 24T, it failed all of WMATA’s performance criteria, with one of the lowest cost recoveries in the system, high subsidy per passenger (over $10 each), and low ridership. The 98 receives less than 6 passengers per trip, even though it only runs during times that ought to have high demand.

N8 (Van Ness to Wesley Heights): This line increased in failed criteria from 3 to 4. It decreased in ridership by over 10%, and all related performance criteria suffered. The line serves about 350 passengers per day with a subsidy of $1 million.

These lines failed fewer than 4 criteria:

  • S80, S91 (Springfield circulator)
  • C7, C9 (Greenbelt to Glenmont); repeat from 2007
  • 15K, 15L (Chain Bridge Road); repeat
  • W19 (Indian Head Expressway)
  • E6 (Chevy Chase DC); improved in ridership since 2007
  • 66, 68 (Petworth, 11th Street);declined in performance since 2007
  • 17 A/B/F/M (Kings Park); repeat
  • 18E, 18F (Springfield); repeat

Other notable lines include the B30 and the 5A. These are the only WMATA links to the BWI and Dulles airports. Both have too few passengers per revenue mile, probably due to the length of the line. Other than that, they perform adequately, with generally good cost recovery (the 5A is the highest in the system) and moderate subsidies compared to other lines.

The best lines have changed little from last year, as expected. Here are the leaders in each category:

Daily passengers: The 30s lines (Wisconsin & Pennsylvania Avenues) were split up into different statistical bins, so they lose their #1 spot to the 70/71 combination (Georgia Avenue/7th Street). The northern portion, from Silver Spring to downtown via Georgia Avenue, got the express 79 during 2008. It’s a prime candidate for upgrading to streetcar, but DC’s plans (PDF) call for BRT instead.

Cost recovery: The 5A (Dulles Airport) leads the pack, followed by the 18G/H/J express buses from Pentagon along I-395 to Orange Hunt. These lines charge a premium fare for express service, increasing their fare recovery. The highest cost recovery among local buses is the X2 (H Street/Benning Road), just like last year.

Passengers per mile: It’s the X2 and the 42 bus (Mount Pleasant to downtown via Columbia and Connecticut). These lines are great “pedestrian accelerators”, with relatively frequent service on short routes. The X2 is on the short list for upgrading to streetcar service.

Subsidy per passenger: It’s the X2 again. I don’t know why the subsidy increased so much this year, but last year it was a lot less. Annual operating costs were higher by more than $1M, and passenger revenue was less than last year. Ridership was down overall by about 500,000 per year.

Passengers per trip: The C2/C4 combination (Greenbelt-Twinbrook) repeats its title from last year. I believe the data for the P12 line (Eastover-Addison Road) is not correct for number of revenue trips, based on the spreadsheet stating 6,000 trips for this year and 30,000 trips for last year, with approximately the same ridership. I just don’t buy that the same number of people are riding the same bus line, with a dramatic cut in frequency that I’d never heard of.

Just like last year, I think this performance just demonstrates how good a line the X2 is. It’s no wonder that DC is considering upgrading the line to streetcar. Let’s hope they get the funding and overhead wires issues sorted out quickly so we can start laying some tracks.

Michael Perkins blogs about Metro operations and fares, performance parking, and any other government and economics information he finds on the Web. He lives with his wife and two children in Arlington, Virginia.