Public transportation in the Washington area has about 5,000 riders a day since last July when Metro opened 12 new miles of subway and subsequently realigned or curtailed more than 500 bus routes.
That negative figure comes from Metro's first quarterly report on total transit ridership, released to the Metro board yesterday.
In a count taken in October, Metro-buses were found to have 54,815 fewer riders per day than they did on an average day in fiscal 1977, which ended June 30. Metro planners had predicted that bus ridership would stay about even despite the massive route realignment, but that drop is almost 14 per cent.
Rail ridership, on the other hand, has increased steadily since the 12-mile Blue Line from National Airport to Stadium-Armory opened July 1. By the end of October, the period this report covers, the subway was carrying 123,193 riders per day.
Although subway ridership has increased steadily since then as the system ras become regularly reliable, daily rail ridership still is far below the projected 175,000 that Metro confidently forecast more than a year ago. That forecast subsequently has been revised downward to 150,000 daily riders.
The numbers in the Metro report are the first hard proof of what long-time bus system observers knew to be true: the combination of increased fares, complicated transferring procedures between bus and train, realigned bus routes and the early mechanical problems with the trains were combining to drive people to other means of transportation.
"We believe that the low point has been passed," Metro general manager Theodore Lutz told his board of directors in a staff paper. "We base this assessment on the continuing upswing in Metrorail ridership during November" and on bus counts in November. The report is based on figures completed in October.
The report appears to indicate that the most dramatic decrease in bus ridership has occurred in the District of Columbia. Unfortunately, no pre-July 1 bus counts were taken on the specific District of Columbia bus corridors that were most dramatically changed with the opening of the new subway.
There are good counts available, however, for both the major Virginia corridors affected. Before the Blue Line opened, for example, there were 15,481 bus commuters using Key Bridge or Roosevelt Bridge per day.
After the bus realignment, many of those people were forced to transfer to the subway at Rosslyn. Bus ridership thus declined about 3.5 per cent to 14.391 per day.
In the Pentagon-National Airport corridor, where another major change took place, the average bus ridership has remained almost the same. Before the bus realignment, 33,964 people a day rode buses across the 14th Street or Memorial Bridges; after the turnback, 33,900 a day continued to ride buses to the Pentagon or National Airport turnback points.
The relatively stable Virginia figures force one to the conclusion that the heaviest loss in bus ridership has been in the District of Columbia or from the Prince George's County buses that were rerouted from downtown to the Stadium-Armory, Potomac Avenue, L'Enfant Plaza or Federal Center SW Metro Stations.
Metro ridership expert Robert Pickett agreed with that conclusion yesterday and also said that better District of Columbia and Prince George's County numbers would be available in the next report.
Pickett also pointed out that the most visible recent fare change occurred in the District of Columbia July 1, when rush hour bus fares increased from 40 cents to 50 cents. That was the first Washington increase in seven years. During the same period the suburbs had several increases, the most recent coming last March.
Metro staff members knew the report contained bad news, but nobody knew it better than Metro's ebullient and permanently optimistic spokesman, Cody Pfanstichl.
In a memorandum for his press staff that he also handed out at the press table yesterday, Pfanstiehl wrote, "Media will make a thing out of quarterly report on Metrobus/metrorial ridership . . . As a result, unless people will think there is a huge drop in public transit use. So consider these facts . . ."
Pfanstiehl's first fact was that total ridership was off only 12 per cent: down from 413,479 per day in fiscal 1977 to 408,329 in October of this year.
He also pointed out that things were getting increasingly better. That is true.
The subway trains just could not deal with the crowds in the first weeks of operation. They ran in fits and starts; many people were late for work. The trains run on time now almost all the time.
Metro has had several days now when every scheduled train has run and the percentage of trains running is consistently above 95 per cent - a good average anywhere in the transit industry. Ten more trains have been added to the daily schedule on the Blue Line.
Additionally some of the other problems that irritated transit riders have been solved. The farecard machines, which dispense tickets people must use both to enter and exit the subway, have become increasingly reliable. The escalatoss work a little better.
Metro staff members have been meeting with local groups to fine-tune bus schedules so the bus and rail system would mesh more efficiently.
"It is believed," Lutz said in his memo, "that the very real improvements in service presently being made are bringing back the ridership that was lost due to the problems that the new rail service experienced during the summer and early fall."
Daily subway ridership is now averaging about 132,000 and had reached a one-week average of 135,000 before Thanksgiving and the holiday season. The Metro Lunch Buncch doubtless is contributing considerably to that. One proof is that on Friday, when it is known that on an average fewer people come to work in Washington than on any other day, subway ridership usually is higher than any other day of the week. That can only mean an unusually large lunchtime crowd.
There was other bad news for Metro yesterday. Revenues are running about $929,100 behind projections for the year. One-third of that - $327,000 - is a attributable to losses in expected revenue from regularly scheduled bus and subway service.
Special services - contracts and charters - also are running well behind projections and account for more than half of the estimate, according to William Boleyn, Metro's assistant general manager for finance.
Finally yesterday, Montgomery County Executive James P. Gleason, by proxy, blocked the transfer of $3 million in local money to the Metro construction fund. Because that is matching money, the blockade ties up another $12 million federal dollars.
The local money comes from the Maryland state treasury and has to be passed to Metro through the Washington Suburban Transit Commission (WSTC), an obscure but important state agency, Gleason controls three of the six votes on tht agency. The other three are from Prince George's County.
The state showed up with the money yesterday, but insisted that the WSTC agree in adance to hand it directly to Metro. WSTC chairman Carlton Sickles, from Prince George's, could only agree to accept it. It became clear during the meeting that it would not then be forwarded to Metro because vice chairman Cleatus Barnett is appointed by Gleason. So the state man put the money in his pocket and left without giving it to WSTC.
It is Gleason's position that he will not release money until he has a promise from the U.S. government that it will finance the planned subway extension from Silver Spring to Glenmont.
"Personally, I think Jim (Gleason) should declare victory and turn loose the money," Metro board chairman Francis White said yesterday. "As a fellow Maryland official (White is from Prince George's County) I support his goals."