Atlantic Cities

Boosting Ridership by Replacing Buses With Rail

Boosting Ridership by Replacing Buses With Rail
Reuters

When rail goes in, ridership goes up. At least, that's what's happened in Los Angeles, where the county's transportation authority, Metro, has gone on a more than two-decade binge of light rail and subway development. A new analysis of transit ridership before and after the four lines opened shows that overall ridership has dramatically increased with rail in the picture.

Scott Page, a planner with Metro, has analyzed ridership stats and documents to see how transit use patterns changed along corridors formerly reliant solely on buses but now augmented with rail lines. By comparing average ridership before and after the rail options were in place, Page shows that adding rail service has grown ridership on these corridors anywhere from 95 percent to nearly 350 percent. His results and data have since been published on Metro's blog The Source. Below is a breakdown of those figures, using average weekday boardings counted during specific ridership survey periods to compare pre- and post-rail ridership:

Blue Line corridor
Before: 41,971 (Most recent previous ridership count: 1990)
After: 104,001 (2012)
Increase: 147 percent

Red Line corridor
Before: 51,306 (Most recent previous ridership count: 2003)
After: 161,168 (2012)
Increase: 214 percent

Green Line corridor
Before: 11,074 (Most recent previous ridership count: 1993)
After: 49,640 (2012)
Increase: 348 percent

Gold Line corridor
Before: 31,199 (Most recent previous ridership count: 2002)
After: 60,922 (2012)
Increase: 95 percent

For public transit advocates – especially rail proponents – these numbers are easy to love. They can also be used to make the case that investing in rail projects (in addition to less expensive bus projects) can help to achieve transit ridership goals, in numbers anyway. If the goal is geographic coverage, the case would be harder to make. And if the goal is providing public transit cheaply, even these impressive ridership figures wouldn't make much of a difference.

Still, it's important to note that this analysis focuses purely on ridership figures, and doesn't take into account population change or other demographic shifts between the early 1990s and today. The county's population has grown by more than a million people over that time, to 9.8 million. That's a growth rate of roughly 11 percent. This growth – as well as a variety of other factors – surely plays into these ridership figures.

But on their face, these numbers paint a very appealing picture: more people will ride transit when it involves trains and not just buses.

Image credit: Reuters

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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