Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Not Just the Work Trip

Ben Ross of the Action Committee for Transit testified before a House panel to discuss cuts to the Metro system. His testimony was good, but what most interested me was the move towards non-work trips in the ridership department.
In Washington, the trend toward transit goes back ten years. Metrorail ridership started to go up in 1998 after a decade of little change. Since then it has grown at breakneck speed. Average weekday ridership rose from 528,000 in May 1998 to 752,000 in May 2008 – an increase of 42% in just 10 years. That far exceeds population growth. Despite the worsening economy and falling gas prices, ridership in recent months has continued to be significantly higher than a year earlier.

We can better understand what is happening by looking at these data in more detail. The biggest growth in transit use is not for traditional commuting trips, but for non-work travel. A fundamental shift in lifestyle is occurring as people no longer organize their lives around the automobile. Between 1999 and 2007, Metrorail boardings during the morning rush hour – a good measure of commuting travel – increased 33.5%. But ridership increased 47% on Saturdays and 57% on Sundays.
It's become cooler to save money, walk more to your destinations and take transit. But this was also because Washington gave the option. You see, it isn't so cut and dry as the sprawlagists would like you to believe. Give people the choice to drive or take transit, some will choose transit and some will choose to drive. Give them one choice and well they will drive. It's pretty simple actually. Invest in transit service and it will give people a reason to use it. Especially if you have a good subway system like Metro tied to frequent buses, commuter rail, and Amtrak.


Spokker said...

To find out how many people are taking non-work trips in LA one only has to go as far as the Red Line on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night. The trains are packed and full of groups of people going to and fro in Hollywood. They've got their Sunday best on and they're heading to the Pantages and Hollywood and Highland and whatever the hell people do in Hollywood. 9 o'clock at night and the trains are standing room only.

Thelonious_Nick said...

"It's become cooler to save money, walk more to your destinations and take transit. But this was also because Washington gave the option."

I think it's more the latter than the former. It may nor may not be cooler now, but it just wasn't an option before 1998. I think it was about that time that the Metro system, and development around stations, finally reached critical mass. Before that, there just wasn't enough you could get to on Metro. But with the completion of the Green line in 2000 and new development around Green line stations (especially U Street), as well as all the transit-oriented development in the Orange line's Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in the past 10-15 years, it's now far easier to live your entire life inside the Beltway without using a car.

The obvious lesson her for other, smaller systems is to keep building. Each new line enhances the utility of the older lines as well by bringing new destinations into play. Eventually, you reach a point where cars simply aren't necessary for many people.

Pedestrianist said...

Thank you for bringing this up! I think this is shamefully overlooked, even by die-hard transit activists. Here in SF we're sacrificing general lifestyle trips under the TEP in order to preserve service to commuters.

There is such a pervasive bias in Bay Area transportation against the transit-dependent or non-commuting transit choice riders in favor of the almighty office worker that I fear we'll never have a system that carries anyone else.

njh said...

I found it interesting that highway user fees (gas tax) as a portion of expenditure was 20% whereas metro user fees as a portion of expenditure was 32%. public transport is more self funding than highways.

(and whilst the Metro provides its own policing, the high way patrol is paid for separately)

The 4 Season Travel Blog said...

I dream of the days when taking public transportation is easier and cheaper than driving. In parts of Europe that's the real world, but in San Diego where I live now, we still have a far way to go..