Image by mariordo59 licensed under Creative Commons.

DC’s two-mile streetcar route overlaps two popular Metrobus lines, the X2 and X9, and when the streetcar started some wondered whether it would poach those lines’ riders. WMATA recently crunched the data, and it turns out overall transit ridership along the H Street/Benning Road corridor is up 15% since February.

The X2 and X9 Metrobus lines carry about 14,000 daily riders between Minnesota Avenue Metro station and 16th Street NW in downtown DC via H Street. For a two-mile stretch along H Street and Benning Road NE, the DC Streetcar overlaps the bus lines. This situation suggested the streetcar and bus lines might compete for the same riders in a zero-sum game that would limit each service’s potential.

But when WMATA’s PlanItMetro team recently looked into the ridership data, they found that this isn’t happening. Instead, bus ridership has remained stable while the streetcar has grown its ridership from around 2,400 people per day at its launch in February to about 2,800 per day in last month. The result is an increase in total transit use of the bus lines and streetcar combined, not a substitution of one service for another. Boardings along the H Street-Benning Road corridor now approach 17,000 per day.

Image by WMATA.

In fact, according to PlanItMetro, it looks like the streetcar and buses are serving two entirely different markets.

The Metrobus X2 and X9 attract riders who want to go to places the streetcar doesn’t run, like downtown or across the Anacostia River to the Minnesota Avenue Metro station. Many folks using the buses are likely doing so on a weekday to commute to or from a workplace, school, or home.

Ridership follows that pattern, too: X2 ridership (PDF) is much higher on weekdays than weekends, and the X9 only operates during weekday rush hours.

By comparison, the streetcar appears to serve as a local circulator service for folks going from one part of H Street/Benning Road to another. And its ridership is much more even between weekdays and weekends, which suggests few folks are riding it to commute, but many are using it throughout the day for trips to shop or dine along H Street.

The fundamental reasons for people taking the X2 or X9 vs. the streetcar seem unlikely to change, at least until either of the proposed Benning Road or Georgetown streetcar extensions are built. But, in one small step toward more integration, a stop for the X2/X9 on H Street “Hopscotch” bridge at the DC Streetcar stop is among the Metrobus service changes going into effect on December 18th.

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Bryan Rodda is a transportation planner and policy analyst. His interests include bicycling, designing streets for better walkability and barrier-free access, and transit maps. A Capitol Hill resident, he enjoys giving directions to lost tourists and always stands right, walks left on escalators.