Metro reported yesterday that its second year of substantial ridership increase has brought public transit use in the Washington area to the highest level since 1954, when the American love affair with the automobile was blossoming.
Daily ridership on the bus and subway system increased on average of 97,737 in the year that ended June 30, according to Metro General Manager Richard S. Page. Page said he was "delighted with the good news" of the 18.6 percent jump.
The increase was helped along by last summer's gasoline shortage, higher gasoline prices and escalating parking fees, officials said.
Metro seems to be holding many of the riders it gained then. The detailed report shows that subway ridership increased 6.5 percent this June over June 1979, when the gasoline crisis was putting extraordinary new demands on Metro.
However, the ridership report does not include figures for the new fiscal year, which began July 1, along with a fare increase for the buses and subway. y
Metro officials said it is too early for them to tell what effect the fare increase has had on ridership. However, revenues collected from the bus system are running slightly ahead of projections, while revenues on the subway are meeting the projections, officials said.
In the last two years, Metro's ridership has jumped a whopping 42.7 percent. Average weekday trips were 524,059 a year ago and 435,723 in 1978. If riders use the bus and subway for one trip, they are counted only once.
That increase is attributable to the subway. Over the last two years, the tracks have been extended to New Carrollton in Prince George's County and Ballston in Arlington County. Subway service has been added on weeknights and weekends, the most recent addition coming with Sunday service last September.
At the same time, however, the bus system has also attracted more riders, partly because thousands of people use it to get to the subway. Bus rides increased 37 percent over two years ago and 23.4 percent over the last year.
Page noted that ridership on Metro has grown at a rate 2 1/2 times the national average in the last year. "In the seven years since takeover of the private bus companies," Page said, "transit ridership in the Washington metropolitan area has increased by over 61 percent," compared with a 24 percent increase nationally.
The ridership report comes at a time when Metro needs good news. Political problems among the eight local governments that make up the Metro system continue to plague the subway construction schedule, and the growing costs of operating even a popular transit system are of great concern to area budget officers.
Metro's current operating budget is $275 million, $150 million of which is paid through various federal, state and local subsidies. The largest single factor in the Metro operating bill is salaries for 5,000 workers, and they are guaranteed quarterly cost-of-living salary increases equal to the increase in the Washington area consumer price index. Metro's projected salary increase for this year has already been eaten up in the first quarterly increase. Metro and the transit union are in binding labor arbitration over Metro's insistence that the cost-of-living formula be reduced.
The report also said that Metro's average daily subway-only ridership reached an all-time monthly high in June of 310,000, the first time the monthly average exceeded the 300,000-rider level.
The Farragut West station, which serves the bustling profesional office complex near Connecticut Avenue and K Streets NW, continues to be Metro's busiest, with almost 28,000 users daily. The second busiest station is Metro Center, with 19,000. Silver Spring, the anchor of the Red Line, holds third with about 17,000.