Metro ridership tumbles due to Superstorm Sandy

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Superstorm Sandy took a toll on Metro's already lagging ridership, helping reduce ridership 9.5 percent below agency forecasts for the month of October.

The storm left little damage around the Washington region, yet Metro closed down its service for almost two days as a precaution. Without buses, trains and shuttles running, Metrorail, Metrobus and MetroAccess lost an estimated 2.4 million trips due to the storm, according to a Metro report.

The storm's losses made a growing problem worse. Metrorail's ridership was already 4.9 percent below the agency's forecast for the first three months of the fiscal year that began July 1. It fell an additional 10.3 percent below expectations in October, according to the report. MetroAccess ridership continued to drop, falling 12.9 percent below budget forecasts. Even bus ridership, which had been growing beyond expectations, fell 8.1 percent in October.

The losses translate to $13.4 million less in revenue coming into the agency from fares and parking fees than the agency had budgeted so far this fiscal year, according to the report.

Metro is not in a financial hole, though. The agency had savings elsewhere in the first four months of the fiscal year due to vacancies, lower-than-expected pension costs, delayed contracts and other factors, the report said.

"Metro's operations continue to be favorable to budget as a result of effectivemanagement of expenses," said Metro spokeswoman Caroline Lukas. "We will continue to take appropriate steps to operate within budget."

But agency finance officials had warned earlier this fall that if losses continue, the agency could have to undertake "containment strategies."

The agency did not have any ridership numbers for November available Thursday, but Lukas said officials plan to update board members on the latest data and their financial implications in January.

Metro has blamed its non-storm ridership drop on a combination of reduced federal transit benefits on top of a July 1 fare hike. Officials have said riders are taking fewer discretionary trips now that they are paying more from their own pockets.

But riders and Metro's own finance reports have said that reduced service from the Rush Plus service change and scheduled weekend track work are also contributing to the losses. Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said ridership losses continued in the weekday midday hours even when Metro scaled back track work at those times, indicating riders were taking fewer trips because of cost rather than agency work.

Metro's ridership drop is bucking a trend of increased transit ridership nationwide, according to the American Public Transportation Association.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner