WASHINGTON - Despite the fanfare surrounding the opening of the Silver Line, Metro says fewer people are riding the rails. A new report shows that Metrorail ridership has been in a steady decline since 2010. Numbers show that from 2010 and 2014 the average weekday rail ridership fell by 40,000 passengers.
Washingtonian columnist Benjamin Freed said that Metro’s ‘death spiral,’ was predicted several years ago by then general manager, Richard A. White.
“A lot of things that are in this report are what the Metro Chief at the time, Richard White, predicted,” Freed said when he spoke with FOX 5 on Tuesday. “If you have a string of bad service you’ll have disaffected riders, which means more riders will turn to other options, most likely their own cars – plus other modes as well. That cuts into fairs which are the biggest source of Metro's revenue and all of a sudden Metro has a lot more trouble paying the bills.”
While Metro says it hope to generate revenue by selling ads and by introducing tickets specials geared toward college students, it may be difficult to produce the income they need without fare hikes.
The report points to several issues that could have led to the decline in ridership, including the reduction of the federal government’s workforce. Thirty-five percent of Metrorail customers are government workers and the ability to telework - coupled with fewer government employees - has cut into regular ridership.
The reduction in the federal transit subsidy has been another major issue, the report stated. About 25 percent of Metrorail commuters are running out of SmartBenefits before the month is over which has led to a reduction in longer trips.
Safety concerns are also a key issue, the report says. Metro notes the fatal L'Enfant Plaza smoke incident in January, the August derailment at Smithsonian, and last month's substation fire at Stadium-Armory as examples of some of recent safety issues it has faced.
The reliability of system and the on-time performance is suffering, according to the report. Trains are consistently below target, especially since the Silver Line opened.
In addition, alternate modes of transportation – like riding the bus and bicycle commuting have become available and may be more affordable for commuters.
Metro plans to discuss this new report on Thursday.
Read more of Benjamin Freed’s article online at Washingtonian.com.