Showing posts with label ridership highs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ridership highs. Show all posts

Sunday, June 23, 2013

One year after opening, Expo line ridership meeting projections for 2020

A bit over a year ago, the city of Los Angeles welcomed its newest (and long delayed) light rail line, called the Expo Line. Taking riders between downtown LA and Culver City (and eventually Santa Monica), the line had been greatly anticipated to fill a large gap in the metro system. For one, the line would have three stops serving USC, which includes a stop at the famous and frequently used LA Coliseum.

Not everyone was excited about the line. One conservative group, the Reason Foundation, which had spent years yelling about the horrors of rail transit in LA, sent out two reporters to the new line to count, and thus estimate, ridership. They used their loose estimates to declare the line a failure.

They also further used their ridership estimates from that one weekend to estimate ridership for the next 100 years. They estimated 13,000 riders per month for 2012....and every month after that, in perpetuity.

When called out on their ridiculous estimates, they claimed that their analysis was good because there was no reason for ridership to rise in the future. When told that first month ridership is of no importance, especially for an unfinished transit line, they said this:

The too-early-to-judge complaint is one you hear all the time about rail, but curiously never about cars, movies, burgers, condominiums, software, new fashion lines, tech gadgets, or pretty much any other product that is brought to market. For all the palaver about "soft launches," "slow rollouts" and the like, your opening sales figure is almost always a good indicator of how you’re going to do over the Long Tail. That’s why they call it the "Long Tail" and not the "Long Trunk" or the "Long Opposable Thumb."
Their response
 So how good of an indicator was the first month ridership?

As expected....those numbers were meaningless.

Only two months after launch, another 5,000 riders were boarding every day. 

Last week, Metro released their ridership statistics for May 2013. 


Thats twice as high as launch month....and just short of projections for the year 2020. In other words, as expected by everyone except for Reason, ridership on a new transit line DOES increase from the opening numbers. Based on other lines in LA, these increases happen for about 2 years before, the line reaches its expect ridership. For Expo, that means ridership will normalize just in time for the extension to open, and bring in two more years of steady increases.

User "rubbertoe" over at the Transit Coalition shows how the new line compares with the older light rail lines. (Note, because this only shows one year, full seasonal variation is not apparent)

 photo Combined05-13New_zpsfa1d4063.jpg

If you're wondering why Expo sees less riders than the other existing light rail lines, part of it is because the line is newer. As I mentioned, it takes time to build up ridership. That's because people need to be made aware that the line exists, and also as time goes on, people can make larger adjustments to their commute. For example, someone moving into an apartment along the line next year may do so because they plan on using the line to commute. Meanwhile, the old tenant had been used to driving, since they came to the area when there wasn't a line. That kind of turnover builds ridership.

Another reason is length, which skews things a bit - Expo is currently the shortest rail line in LA. 

On a per mile basis, ridership is as follows:

Blue: 3,923
Gold: 2,192
Green: 2,078
Expo: 1,743

Expo will quickly catch up to the longer lines on a per-mile basis as the "ramping up" period continues.

To put those numbers in perspective, the Portland Light Rail system sees an average of 1,953 per mile. San Jose Light Rail? 796. Boston is king at 7,925 riders per mile.

Phase 2 is will under construction. Gokhan, has been chronicling construction, which you can follow daily at the Transit Coalition. His photo from the current terminus:

 photo IMAG0557_zpsfffa6ff8.jpg

Monday, December 24, 2012

Amtrak California Ridership Update

Nothing quite says Christmas like fresh graphs and Amtrak ridership stats. Since I haven't done one of these Amtrak California ridership updates since August, I figured we were well overdue in taking a look at the most recent trends. In my last update, we had ridership stats up to May, today I have until September.

The San Joaquin continues to be the line showing the greatest gains in ridership. The Capitol Corridor and Pacific Surfliner are not showing much growth, as they are pretty stable compared to last years numbers (up a bit, then down a bit). Next year should continue to show growth on all lines as the economy improves, resulting in more people moving about. Megabus has started service between Sf and Sacramento which may impact Amtrak ridership in that corridor.

How much has the San Joaquin grown?

In June of 2011, the San Joaquin exceeded 100k riders in one month for the first time ever. It exceeded that again in July.

This year, the San Joaquin took over 100k passengers for FIVE months in a row; April-August. 

On the other end, the lowest ridership month was January, with 83,053. Meanwhile, in 2009, 6 months had ridership below 80k, with three months in the 60's. Pretty big leaps in ridership numbers.

Ridership on all three lines, October 2008 - September 2012. All three lines show upwards growth, although the San Joaquin is growing fastest.

All three lines, past 15 months

San Joaquin, an easier way to visualize year on year increases

San Joaquin, past 13 months

Capitol Corridor, past 13 months

Pacific Surfliner, past 13 months

How the California lines compare nationally for July

How the California lines compare nationally for September. The Downeastern recently got extended, and just missed the cut. Expect it to show up in the top 10 ranking soon enough. Important to note that positions 8-12 are quite competitive.

 Enjoy your holidays!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Amtrak California ridership continues to grow in 2012

This is my sixth time posting a summary of Amtrak California ridership and the story continues to be the same - more riders. Those increases come with a poor economy, no improvements in service and (slight) increases in fares. The fastest grower continues to be the San Joaquin service, which runs from Bakersfield to Oakland or Sacramento, which just so happens to be the starting point for California's future high speed rail service.

Amtrak has just released the May 2012 numbers, so lets take a look inside.

In 2008, hitting 80,000 riders on the San Joaquin was a big deal. In 2011, the train broke past 100,000 riders for the first time. This year the San Joaquin didn't even go under 80,000, and has already seen two months of 100,000+ ridership. That's with the summer ridership not being reported yet.

Contrary to what some might claim, the Fresno train station is not a sleepy little place

Take a look at the continuous growth. Not bad for a service that is running the same trains on the same schedule its done for years.

May 2012: 100,992

(I've highlighted the first five months of the year, I think it makes it easier to read)

The Capitol Corridor (Sacramento-Oakland-San Jose) is growing as well.

May 2012: 158,896

On the Pacific Surfliner, ridership has stalled....
May 2012: 236,375


But there's a reason.

Fares are going up, meaning constant increases in revenue.


Does that mean the San Joaquin and the Capitol Corridor are cooking to books by offering low fares?

Not exactly. Revenue is going up faster than ridership, which makes sense, as more people pay into the higher buckets.

And take a look at this, while the San Joaquin has less riders, it brings in more money than the Capitols.



This is what May ridership looks like, year on year.


A bigger picture, all three lines with every month I have.


And finally, this is how the California lines stack up against the rest of the country.


The rankings are pretty consistent

A northbound San Joaquin makes a rare stop on the second track, and the crowd is forced to use one of the two pedestrian crossings

Previous posts:
April 2011
June 2011
July 2011
August and September 2011
December 2011

Amtrak document website

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Expo line ridership increasing rapidly - 16,569 in June

A little less than three months ago, LA's Expo Light Rail line finally opened after years of delay. The launch wasn't perfect, as there were many kinks being worked out, and travel times were slower than expected (train times are now matching their schedules).

While many were happy to celebrate the launch of a new travel option, some were quick to proclaim doom. If you recall, I wrote a couple of posts about how the Reason Foundation decided that Expo was a failure based on some random counts they made within days of the line opening. They then took those random counts, and decided that they were an accurate reflection of lifetime ridership on Expo.

In their own words...

The too-early-to-judge complaint is one you hear all the time about rail, but curiously never about cars, movies, burgers, condominiums, software, new fashion lines, tech gadgets, or pretty much any other product that is brought to market. For all the palaver about "soft launches," "slow rollouts" and the like, your opening sales figure is almost always a good indicator of how you’re going to do over the Long Tail. That’s why they call it the "Long Tail" and not the "Long Trunk" or the "Long Opposable Thumb."

Only two months of data are available, with June ridership being released today, but already it is clear that ridership is obviously increasing from launch.

May saw 11,317 average daily riders, which was indeed low, and actually does match up with what Reason counted.

Observed passenger rates indicate the Expo Line is carrying no more than 13,000 people a day. We have inflated our estimate by presuming that all trains, all day, are running at the observed peak ridership of 50 people.

But did ridership plateau on day one? Of course not.

June saw average daily ridership of 16,569 riders.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
(Make sure to use the trendline to draw outrageous predictions!)

What changed? Well, the last two stations opened in the last week of the month, which of course generated ridership. That's one thing the initial "doom" articles failed to highlight. It's fair to say that with those stations being open for a full month, ridership would indeed be much higher.

And then there's the whole bit about it taking time for people to adjust their commute patterns.

If you recall from my previous article, I pointed out how the Gold Line extension has seen growth every single month since opening. It's been twenty months since opening, and yet the growth hasn't slowed. This of course includes the continued poor economy and gas prices that have stagnated and decreased.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The Gold Line hit another new high of 47,025 in June, and will break that in July (the traditional annual high).

Of course, it's natural to expect the same from Expo. July will show a full month of service with the terminus being open, and the added bonus of late night service, which will fully be appreciated in August. After that, September hits which means USC is open for fall business. On top of that, there's the natural growth as new riders discover the line.

At this point, it's impossible to guess where ridership will reach before Phase 2 opens in 5 or so years, but the Metro estimate of 27,000 riders by the end of year one does seem achievable. I'll keep checking in with how ridership increases on this line and others in LA.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

US transit ridership rises, but continues falling in Fresno

The New York Times reported yesterday that transit ridership in the US has increased drastically in the past year.

Americans took 200 million more rides last year on subways, commuter trains, light-rail systems and public buses than they did the year before, according to a new report by a leading transit association.

Americans took 10.4 billion rides on public transportation in 2011 — a billion more than they took in 2000, and the second most since 1957, according to a report being released Monday by the American Public Transportation Association.
New York Times

The NYT attributes that increase both due to falling unemployment numbers, and also rising gas prices. I agree with that those factors do play some part, but it's not the whole story. Unemployment is still quite high, by historical standards, and yet ridership is the highest it's been since the 1950's. That indicates that some people are shifting their mode of travel, even with the availability of disposable income.

Part of the reason is that the last decade saw a fair amount of investment in transit. While 2008-2012 did see service cuts and fare hikes around the country, due to massive holes in tax revenue predictions, riders were still able to enjoy a decade of expansion in transit infrastructure. In the 2000's, around the country, new buses hit the roads, light rail systems and streetcars were deployed, subways saw extensions, and commuter rail lines were restored on lines abandoned 40 years earlier.

Now, if you're thinking "hold on a second, where I live, the trains are falling apart!" then look back at what the transit system you used looked like in the 1970's when investment in transit was at an all time low. Odds are, that train you're complaining about didn't even exist, or was on the verge of being eliminated.

New York, for example, has come a very long way from looking like this


But while most of the country DID see investment in transit over the past decade, Fresno did not. In fact, entire lines were eliminated, fares were raised, and the buses follow routes that do not reflect what the city looks like today.

From 1990 to 2010, Fresno grew from 354,202 to 494,665 and yet the transit system actually shrunk.

One might expect that at worst, ridership would grow only at the rate of population growth, and not a person more. But that's not true at all.

As the Fresno bus system has become less and less useful in meeting the transportation needs of 2012, ridership has fallen. Simply put, the routes don't connect people between where they live and where they want to go. And the routes that do exist are infrequent and don't run past 9:30pm.

So while APTA reports that ridership around the country is on the way up, their numbers show that ridership in Fresno is on a continuous downward slide.

One would expect a fall in 2009, as gas prices bottomed out and unemployment skyrocketed, but if the only factor at play were those, than ridership would be on the way up, like everywhere else. Sadly, that's not the case.

Here's a look at ridership from October 2007 to December 2011. The vertical axis indicates total rides for the month, in '000's.


The highest ridership in 2011, March with 1,042,300 was actually lower than the lowest ridership number in 2009, which was 1,060,100 in July of that year.

Yes it's true that unemployment is still very high. As the Fresno Bee reported last week, unemployment is still at 16.9%.


Now, while unemployment is still high, its down from 18.3% a year ago. But no spike in ridership.

So unemployment IS falling, but ridership is as well? What's going on?

The question is, how big of an impact are employment rates and gas prices on ridership? One way to see how the exact same variables influence ridership is to look how neighboring transit systems are doing.

Bakersfield (2010 pop 347,483) has shown that ridership in its system doesn't really vary at all.


That same October 2008 spike is there, but besides that? Pretty damn steady. Down, yes, but not nearly as much.

Meanwhile, Visalia (2010 pop 124,442) has shown continuous growth in ridership on their smaller system. That same October 08 burst is there, but the system has since exceeded it by a fair margin.


So the US, on average, has increasing ridership. Other nearby cities are increasing or holding steady.

Clearly Fresno is doing something wrong. Maybe it's time the council and the mayor acknowledges that FAX exists and actually does something to fix it?

Budgets are still tight, but FAX is sort of, you know, important. And we all know that the local government has no issue with splurging when it comes to road projects. Want to help lower unemployment? Then maintain a system that lets people get to work.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Amtrak California ends 2011 with continued high ridership

It may almost be March, but Amtrak has just released their December report, meaning we can take a look at Amtrak California ridership for the end of the year. When I last wrote about Amtrak ridership the August and September reports had just been released. My lack of posting hasn't been because ridership has been poor. Quite the contrary, ridership continues to exceed previous highs, and the year ended quite well.

For the October-December period, ridership is up over 2010 on two of the lines.
Year on year ridership changes
San Joaquin : +8.6%
Capitol Corridor : +6.9%
Pacific Surfliner : -6.1%

While ridership is down on the PacSurf, ticket revenue is up by quite a bit. I'm guessing Amtrak hiked up fares, which lowered ridership, but more than made up for it in new revenue. That's just a guess though, perhaps construction or such hurt ridership.

For the October-December period, revenue is up over 2010 on all three lines.
Year on year revenue changes
San Joaquin : +12.2%
Capitol Corridor : +10.8%
Pacific Surfliner : +8.2%

Those aren't insignificant increases folks, especially for train lines that have been running as long as these. 

Revenue is an important metric because it means Amtrak isn't padding ridership numbers by discounting fares. Indeed, revenue is up higher than ridership is, meaning more people are paying into the higher bucket rates.

So how are the lines doing on other year-over-year metrics? Very well. Especially the San Joaquin which keeps growing. The Pacific Surfliner seems to be stuck at a certain ridership level for the time being.

Let's take a look at November ridership, from 2008 to 2011.

The San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor have shown increases every single year.
(Please note the y-axis)


While this is just November, the SJ has added almost 10,000 each month compared to 2009. For a "nowhere" region where "nobody" rides trains, 10,000 new riders is a whole lot of somebodies. In fact, seven of Amtrak's lines carried less than 10,000 people total for the month of December, so to have the SJ increase ridership by so much is quite the amount. That's over 300 new riders a day.

The Capitol Corridor is also doing quite well.

The Pacific Surfliner, as I mentioned, is sort of stuck. This graph is sort of deceiving (again, pay attention to the y-axis) but the next graph shows the drops aren't such a big deal

And how they look all together. In this graph, the swings in PS ridership seem insignificant.

And now October 2010 to December 2011, all three. This graph lets you see how October-December of last year compares to this year.

Again, the highlight here is the San Joaquin, home to the first stage of construction for high-speed rail. There is a very positive trend in ridership increase since 2008, even though the recession hit the San Joaquin Valley especially hard. The trendline added by excel makes the increase clear.

And how do Amtrak California lines compare in ridership to the rest of the country? Same as always actually. The numbers change, but the rankings don't really. Perhaps next summer we'll see some movement in the ranking.


I stand by my prediction that all the high speed rail news has acted as a massive advertising campaign for the San Joaquin. It also shows that when offered the service, people will jump on trains, they just need to know the option exists. The continued increases show that riders aren't trying the train just once, but sticking around. Makes sense, train travel is affordable and comfortable.

That ranking also shows that the 2009-2011 high speed rail grants weren't random. Every corridor shown in the top 10 was selected for some kind of HSR funding. I hope that after the November election, HSR funding is restored so that the top 10 Amtrak corridors continue to see significant investment and increases in ridership.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

San Joaquin (Amtrak) ridership continues to soar - is HSR to blame?

Amtrak has finally caught up with their monthly status reports, and their August and September numbers are now available.

What really popped out from these reports was the incredibly impressive numbers from the San Joaquin route, which services California's Central Valley and is where the first phase of High Speed Rail (HSR) is set to be constructed. To HSR detractors, this section of the state is known as "nowhere", a land of farms and vast distances, where transit is simply unfeasible.

The latest numbers don't break the record set in July, because that is typically the route's best month, but 2011 did feature the highest August and September on record....and by a large amount.

How does two months of over 18% year on year growth sound?

That's even more impressive when you consider the following:

 1)     Not a honeymoon. This route has been offered by Amtrak since 1974.
 2)     No increase in service or frequency. The route has offered 6 trains a day (each way) since 2002 and besides the most minor of adjustments, the same schedule.
 3)     No major ad campaign. Just business as usual
 4)     No economic boon. Quite the opposite, unemployment in the central valley continues to hold steady north of 16%, almost twice the national average.
 5)     No price drop. On the contrary, as the trains fill, the higher price buckets are seen more often.
 6)     2010 was better than 2009....which was better than 2008. This isn't an anomaly, or a percent increase hiding low numbers (ie, this is not a case where ridership doubled because 2 more people rode).

So what's going on? What on earth has caused an 18% surge in ridership?

Since we can put away all those standard explanations, like more service, better prices, or more jobs, that leaves us to dig for reasons that simply aren't as obvious.

And I'd argue that all the talk of High Speed Rail, which won't even open until 2020, is the reason.

You see, HSR has gotten a LOT of press this year. You'd be hard-pressed to find a week in which there wasn't at least one meaty article in the newspaper concerning rail. Be it news about costs, alignments, political grandstanding and so forth, there's always something to report on, and the people are eager to read about it.

And while not every article does it, I'd say the majority do mention the fact that Amtrak currently offers service in the valley, on an alignment that HSR will seek to use.

In other words, the San Joaquin has gotten a whole lot of indirect advertisements with all these articles talking about rail. And as any marketing person knows, constant impressions of your product leads to increased awareness. And if you offer an attractive product, increased awareness means sales.

In this case, an 18% increase in sales.

I'd also like to note that the other Amtrak line to experience good amounts of growth recently has been the Downeaster, linking Boston to its former colony of Maine. Again, the only real change has been lots of press about an upcoming expansion.

Would anyone else would like to propose a reasonable explanation?

Onto the numbers then.

Percent change over same month in 2010
San Joaquin = 18.7%
Capitol Corridor = 10.3%
Pacific Surfliner = 5.3%

San Joaquin = 19.2%
Capitol Corridor = 10.7%
Pacific Surfliner = 5.1%

And here is that in awkward chart format.

San Joaquin August 2009, 2010, and 2011

San Joaquin September 2009, 2010, and 2011

The Capitol Corridor has also seen big gains. Note that the percentage increase is small, but the total number of passengers added is very similar.

Capitol Corridor August 2009, 2010, and 2011

Capitol Corridor September 2009, 2010, and 2011

A year (and two months) in review. Clear seasonal variance is visible.

And how these line stack up against the rest of the country.



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Amtrak California breaks ridership records. Yes, again.

If this post feels familiar it's because Amtrak has been having a very good year, and the California routes have especially been enjoying a surge in riders. The Pacific Surfliner is now the second most popular train line in the nation, beating out the Acela for the #2 spot.

I wonder if all the High Speed Rail press has been working as an advertising campaign for passenger rail in the state?

Just two weeks ago, Amtrak belatedly released their June report, showing the San Joaquin breaking 100,000 for the first time. That was an increase from April, in which the California trains also experienced new records.

Well, records are meant to be broken, and the July number show some more impressive gains.

San Joaquin
The San Joaquin, serving Bakersfield to Oakland and Bakersfield to Sacramento, with 6 trains a day (each way) had 103,933 riders, up from 100,947 in June. This is an all time high for the line.

Of course this means more riders than in July 2010, which at the time was a new high, with 98,377. July 2009 saw 88,505.

What's especially exciting about these numbers is that the planned High Speed Rail line will begin construction in the central valley next year. The line will follow the current Amtrak route from Bakersfield to north of Fresno, before diverging. Many editorials criticized the initial construction segment, calling it "nowhere". Apparently, "nowhere" is a popular place to ride the train, more so than so called "somewheres" along the East Coast (see final chart).

The summer is traditionally the best time of the year for the San Joaquin. Here are the past 13 months.

Year over year improvement, the last three July's have each seen new highs

Pacific Surfliner
The real star of the Amtrak California system. The main focus of this route is to serve San Diego and Los Angeles, but some trains do continue north to Santa Barbara and onto San Luis Obispo.

This July, the train saw an amazing 279,908 riders blowing past the previous all time high of 263,417 set in July of 2010. Last month, the line had 239,984 passengers, so that's an amazing 40,000 new riders from one month to the next. It must be noted that the June->July transition has always shown a large change. July of 2009 saw 256,410 riders.

Like the San Joaquin, each July has exceeded the previous July.

The last 13 months.

Capitol Corridor

This line offers service between Sacramento and San Jose, via Oakland. It is a busy commuter route, and popular with people doing business in Sacramento.

Unlike the other line, the peak is traditionally not in July. As such, it's the only line not breaking a record. 141,767 rode this July, down from 145,495 last month. However, that is the slightest increase over July 2010, which saw 141,479. Both are well above 2009, with 134,746.

The peak is a bit earlier in the year.

Still up year over year, but barely.

And here's how they all look together over the past year.

Finally, here is how the lines compare with the national network.