Bus and Rail Ridership Down in July, Metro Says

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 23, 2009

Two months after the June 22 Metro crash, statistics from the transit agency show that overall bus and rail ridership declined modestly in July compared with the year before.

"There had to be a drop-off, because we weren't running full service," said Metro spokeswoman Cathy Asato, referring to the period immediately after the crash.

But officials point to factors other than the accident to explain the drop from 21 million rail riders in July 2008 to a preliminary count of 20.5 million last month. Lower gas prices might have kept more people in their cars, Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates said, and the economic downturn has reduced tourist travel in the Washington region.

"There's multiple reasons ridership could be down or up throughout the year," Gates said. "It's hard to [attribute] ridership to one specific factor."

One bright spot for the beleaguered transit agency: Although overall bus ridership in July fell from 12.1 million in 2008 to 11.6 million this year, data show a sustained increase of about 1,300 riders each weekday on routes that provide alternatives to Red Line travel. Bus ridership overall has been lower every month this year, except March, than it was in the same month during 2008, Metro statistics show. However, routes 70, 71 and 79 along Georgia Avenue and S1, S2, S4 and S9 along 16th Street NW saw increased ridership when Metro encouraged rail users to switch after the accident that killed nine and injured 80.

Metro has been single-tracking trains through the crash area between Fort Totten and Takoma stations as crews replace circuits and cabling. That work, which continues this weekend, has meant additional delays on the system's busiest line. Inspections of track circuits on other lines and regular maintenance work have increased the headaches for riders.

Karen Legendre, 23, rides the Blue and Orange lines for more than an hour on workdays from her home in Largo to her job in Vienna. She said she found it hard to believe that the number of riders using the system has decreased.

"That can't possibly be," she said. "Even during the down hours, it feels like millions. I never get a seat."

Staff writer Greg Gaudio contributed to this report.

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