Image by ehpien licensed under Creative Commons.

Metrorail ridership is down 1.2% and Metrobus ridership is down a whopping 9.4% when comparing the first nine months of the current fiscal year and the last. This, according to newly-released documents, is what the agency faces as it closes out Fiscal Year 2018 and heads into 2019 which starts in July.

Metrorail ridership has been on the decline since 2008. Originally caused in part due to the recession, ridership continued dropping due to crashes, unreliable service, and various service cuts. The agency was hoping to be able to convince riders to come back after the 16 SafeTrack extended track outages concluded, but the ridership return has yet to materialize.

Through the third quarter of FY 2018 (July 2017 through March 2018), the average number of weekday trips taken on Metrorail was 598,000, according to the agency — a 0.1% increase from last year during which SafeTrack shuttered portions of the rail system, but 2.1% below what Metro budgeted. Average weekday ridership in May 2017 was 612,000 while May 2016’s numbers were 639,000.

WMATA in 2017 attributed 30% of the rail system’s ridership loss from 2013 to 2016 due to “decreasing customer on-time performance.”

DC bus networks show significant ridership drop

Given the focus on fixing the tracks, platforms, and other rail infrastructure, it could almost be easy to forget about the bus network. Metrobus, though smaller than Metrorail, registers about two-thirds the number of riders. Through three quarters of FY2018, 82.6 million trips were taken by bus, compared with 91.2 million through three quarters of FY2017 — a 9.4% drop.

While the Metro documents attempt no direct correlation, the base fare for buses around DC rose from $1.75 to $2 in July 2017 at the beginning of FY2018.

The Virginia portion of the Metrobus network saw an 11% drop in ridership compared to the previous year, from 4.5 to 4 million trips. But Metrobus wasn’t the only one; Arlington Transit (ART) saw a double-digit 17% decrease from 836,000 to 697,000 trips; Fairfax CUE was down 9%; and PRTC saw an 8% decrease.

Falling ridership not a DC-specific issue

Transit ridership decreases aren’t specific to the DC region, however. Ridership in 31 of 35 major metropolitan areas fell last year, according to research from Transit Center. DC’s overall transit ridership fell 3.4% for the year, according to their analysis.

Metro plans to redesign its bus network in the near future, something that several other cities have done recently. By focusing on providing fast, reliable service on a network of routes that serve the vast majority of riders, the agency would be able to save money by streamlining routes and using its resources better.

Metro Reasons is a regular breaking news, investigative reporting, and analysis column by Stephen Repetski about everything Metro. Please send tips to Metro Reasons.

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Stephen Repetski is a Virginia native and has lived in the Fairfax area for over 20 years. He has a BS in Applied Networking and Systems Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology and works in Information Technology. Learning about, discussing, and analyzing transit (especially planes and trains) is a hobby he enjoys.