Just who’s riding on your Metro line? Poll reveals distinguishing demographics.

To many regular Metro riders, it isn’t just a rail system with five colored lines, 86 stations and 100-plus miles of track running throughout the region. It is a lifeline to getting around the region, and each line has its own characteristics.

A recent Washington Post poll of a random sample of roughly 1,100 area residents in the District, Maryland and Virginia showed some similarities — and differences — in the makeup of who rides each of the Metro lines — the Red, Green, Blue and Orange. (The survey did not interview enough Yellow Line riders for reliable results.)

Ridership patterns on Metro tend to reflect the demographics of the city. The Green Line, which runs along the eastern side of the District and into Prince George’s County, has more African American riders on board. And among riders who primarily take the Green Line, 57 percent said they are Democrats, more than on other rail lines.

The Orange Line, which runs east to west from Northern Virginia, through the District and into Maryland, is the richest, whitest and most well-educated, the poll found. Sixty-six percent of Orange Line riders are college graduates, 59 percent are white, and 60 percent said they made more than $100,000 in annual income.

Joshua Schank, an urban planner and president of Eno Center for Transportation, a think tank, said the survey results generally track with trends of who uses public transportation. Typically, the “more dense and sophisticated the transit network” in cities, like Washington and New York, “the less of a disparity there is between transit and non-transit riders.”

A recent Washington Post poll of D.C. area Metro riders.

“In a place like Detroit, where there’s not congestion and you can drive and get [someplace] faster and park for nothing, people will do that,” he said. “But in D.C., where the cost of parking is $20 and traffic is bad, more people from higher income brackets are going to take transit.”

The poll also found that Orange Line riders were less likely to find the Metro convenient to their homes than other riders. Fifty-one percent rated Metro as excellent or good on this attribute, compared with roughly seven in 10 riders on the other lines who said it was convenient.

One surprise to some riders may be that 82 percent of Orange Line riders gave positive ratings to the Metro rail system. Many of the line’s riders have said they find their trains overcrowded, calling it “Orange Crush,” and worry about the impact of the new Silver Line in Northern Virginia.

Poll data aside, riders in the stations and on the rail cars each day have their own observations and sentiments.

The Red Line’s personality?

“It’s the frustrated, cynical train of Metro, because it always has delays,” Angie Ashe said as she boarded one at Friendship Heights on a recent morning.

On the Metro, weary commuters often want the same thing, said Evalena Kay, who rides mainly the Orange Line from Landover to L’Enfant Plaza. To get home and hopefully to get a seat, too.

“We’re all the same,” she said. “Black, white, Chinese. Everybody’s just trying to get to work or get home.”

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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