Metro ridership rises, car usage declines

November 4, 2012

Metro ridership is on the rebound after taking a recession-driven dip. More interesting: people in the national capital region are starting to leave their cars at home.

Metrorail ridership has climbed steadily since 2009 as regional auto usage decreased. While the recession had a bigger impact on bus ridership, it has already recovered strongly and is on pace to reach pre-recession levels as early as this year. As the regional economy continues to recover and grow, Metrorail and Metrobus customers can expect more crowded stations, trains and buses.

In addition to restoring the safety and reliability of the entire system, Metro is planning for recovery and regional growth, understanding that mobility is key to economic well-being. Between 2004 and 2010, 6.4 percent of new households and 13.8 percent of new jobs in the region were located within one-half mile of suburban and one quarter-mile of urban Metro stations. While the Washington region grew by 1.4 percent from 2000 to 2010, the number of households around Metro stations grew by 4.8 percent annually.

Regional and national trends indicate that much of the housing growth through 2030 will come from younger, smaller households that are increasingly choosing higher density homes in transit-accessible locations with easy access to employment and entertainment.

Over 67 percent of the household growth between 1985-2000 was comprised of one- and two-person households, and the census projects that upwards of 85 percent of the future household growth will be comprised of these “smaller” household types. These households have a built-in demand for walkable, urban environments. Almost half of all housing consumers express a desire to live in a walkable community, as evidenced by data compiled by the National Association of Realtors in 2004 and again in 2011.

Realizing that the area served by Metro includes 54 percent of the region’s jobs and accounts for four times the employment growth rate of the region as a whole, Metro is planning the next generation of the system, and inviting public input and discussion on its Web site (www.wmata.com/momentum).

Planners expect continued growth of transit ridership in the region, stemming from the federal government, strong private sector industries, tourism and business travel, and the trend of younger people desiring urban lifestyles in transit-oriented neighborhoods. Investments through the Metro Forward capital program are working to ensure that the region’s transit system can safely support current ridership demand and increase customer satisfaction.

The board of directors has a strategic planning effort under way that looks ahead to future growth and expansion, including the need to reduce crowding in the system’s core, create new transit connections between existing communities, and identifying creative funding strategies.

Metro will continue to publish study results while collecting feedback at wmata.com/momentum.

Shyam Kannan is managing director of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Office of Planning.

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