Every weekday morning, regardless of the weather, Renee Moore gets on her bike. And, even though her office is an hour away and the Anacostia Metro station is just a few blocks away, she begins pedaling to work.
“I don’t really think about the Metro because it’s kind of pricey,” she said recently after getting to work.
Every time she rides past the station, it illustrates how the past few years have been something of a lost opportunity for Metro.
Metro’s drop in ridership has been widely discussed. Getting less attention is that it happened during a time when the number of people living right near Metro’s 40 stations in D.C. grew by the tens of thousands.
According to census data provided to Express by the city’s planning office, about 200,000 households were living within a half-mile of a Metro station in the period between 2012 and 2016, about 15,000 more than in the previous five-year period.
But even though that meant 38,000 more people were living near a station, ridership didn’t grow. According to Metro’s figures, it fell. Weekday boardings in the District dropped by 13 percent between May 2011 and May 2018 — or by an average of about 57,000 boardings daily — while all those people were moving in around stations.
That was “absolutely” a lost opportunity, said Paul Mackie, research director of Mobility Lab, the research arm of Arlington County Commuter Services. “It doesn’t help that the SafeTrack repair program has led to a general decline in both service and loyalty to Metro,” he said. “But Metro needs to promote itself harder, especially in light of competition from other options like Uber, Lyft, carpooling, e-scooters, bikes and bikeshare, and the rise in teleworking.”
The trend wasn’t universal.
Ridership did grow at seven of D.C.’s 40 Metro stations, as the neighborhoods around them grew. About 11,280 households lived near the NoMa-Gallaudet U station between 2012 and 2016, about 50 percent more than the 7,440 living there between 2007 to 2012. And about 1,800 more people got on trains at the station each weekday in May 2018 than in the same month in 2011.
But at most stations, the opposite happened.
Within a half-mile of the U Street station, for instance, there were some 27,237 households between 2012 and 2016 — three times more than were there in the previous five years. Still, the number of boardings each weekday was 1,411 lower in May 2018 than in May 2011.
A different set of census figures comparing the period between 2013 and 2017 and the previous five-year period gives a glimpse at how Metro is facing more competition.
While the number of adults living near a station increased by 20 percent, the number commuting by public transportation grew by only 10 percent. The number of those walking or commuting by another means — like biking, scootering or taking a ride-share service — grew by a third.
What’s good news for Metro is that according to the city’s data, nearly all the city’s growth happened in areas within a half-mile of stations. According to the city’s data, 96 percent of the additional 15,829 households the city has seen are near a Metro station.
And as Metro improves service, Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly predicts, ridership will grow. Trains last year were more likely to come on time than at any point in the past seven years, she said.
“Riders, regardless of where they live, want to know they can depend on Metro to get them where they want to go when they want to go in a predictable, reliable way,” Ly said.
Mackie also said Metro hasn’t done enough to reach out to all the additional people moving in around stations.
“There is a huge TransitScreen on the marquee at Gallery Place/Chinatown that lists when the next trains are leaving,” he noted. “Why aren’t those signs in every neighborhood and bar and restaurant and library and hotel promoting transit?"
The number of people living by stations who drive alone to work grew by 15 percent between May 2011 and May 2018, in comparison to the previous five years. Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth said that showed the need to bar companies from subsidizing employees’ parking fees at work.
In a sense, it doesn’t matter if more people like Moore are riding their bikes instead of taking Metro, Cort said, just as long as they’re not driving. “More people are able to live in neighborhoods (many near Metro) and rely on walking and biking for most or many of their trips. That’s a zero emissions trip,” she said via email.
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