Metro ridership begins slow recovery

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Photo - Metro riders at the Gallery Place-Chinatown station (Examiner file photo)
Metro riders at the Gallery Place-Chinatown station (Examiner file photo)
Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Metro's rail ridership stayed relatively steady in the past fiscal year, while bus ridership soared nearly 6 percent, according to agency figures.

Metrorail registered 218.2 million trips in the year that ended June 30, about 1.2 million, or 0.6 percent, more than the prior year. Bus ridership rose 5.7 percent to 132.2 million trips, even higher than the agency forecasted.

The figures show Metro is making a slow recovery after two years of faltering ridership, but it still hasn't returned to levels it had on either its buses or trains during fiscal 2009.

Metro ridership still in recovery mode
Mode Fiscal 2009 Fiscal 2012 Difference
Metrorail 222.9m 218.2m -2.1%
Metrobus 133.8m 132.2m -1.2%

That year marked both the best and worst period for the agency. Metro delivered record service for the historic inauguration of President Obama and had multiple high ridership days on its trains for baseball games and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. But near the end of that fiscal year, the deadly June 22, 2009, Red Line crash occurred.

Ridership tumbled in the second half of 2009. For that fiscal year, ridership fell 2.6 percent on rail and 8.2 percent on buses. It continued to suffer the next fiscal year, with rail ridership dropping slightly and buses regaining a bit. The agency had said it lost riders because of the accident and the economic slowdown.

Although Metrobus ridership has now made the bigger recovery, it still remains slightly below the levels it reached in the 2008 and 2009 fiscal years, when it hit 132.8 million and 133.8 million trips, respectively. And looking further back, it remains below the 140 million or so trips that Metro said it provided each year in 1990, 1991, and 2000 to 2004. It's hard to compare those years, though, because Metro changed how it counted bus trips in 2000 and its fareboxes in 2005.

Such shifts in Metro's ridership matter, as riders' fares help pay for the system. A 0.5 percent drop in regional employment could cost $9 million in revenues, agency officials said last month, while a day of extreme weather that closes the federal government could cost $2 million.

But forecasting ridership in advance has proved tricky. This past year, Metro had budgeted that rail ridership would be higher, while it underestimated the growth on buses. The variation from the forecasts to the actual ridership on rail amounted to a $12.4 million drop, according to Metro.

In the current year, the agency is expecting rail ridership to remain steady, despite a fare hike. But it also is forecasting a 1.8 percent bus ridership decrease.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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