Tag Archives: Metrobus

Skewed Metro Ridership Forecasts Too High

We can’t rely on WMATA ridership forecasts.

Today, I look at forecasts for MetroRail and MetroBus for the two most recent comparable periods with available data. In the period from July 2017 through March 2018, MetroRail forecasts were above projections in four months and below in five months.

This doesn’t sound too bad until one examines the overall numbers. Metro overestimated ridership for these nine months by nearly 2.8 million. Actual ridership was 2.1% lower than expected by WMATA in its budget forecasts.

On the good news front, the rail ridership forecasts were not as off as the previous year.

In July 2016 through March 2017, WMATA overestimated rail ridership every single month, resulting in a net overestimate of 19.4 million or 13.0%. However, though WMATA projections are less wildly optimistic, notice that the skew direction remains the same.

The improvement was less strong in MetroBus ridership forecasts and the skew direction remained overly rosy. Here are the projected and actual MetroBus ridership for the most recent period.

WMATA projected more MetroBus riders every month than expected with the projections worse in the most recent months. Overall, there were nearly 4.5 million, or 5.1%, fewer riders than anticipated by the budget forecasts.

Like for MetroRail, the previous year’s MetroBus projections were abysmal.

The previous year’s projections were off by even more in every single month. WMATA overestimated MetroBus ridership by 9.3 million. Actual ridership was 9.2% lower than the forecast.

WMATA needs to reform its projections so they do not skew in favor of overestimating ridership. Indeed, if anything, it would be better to err on the conservative side since Metro’s budget relies in part on the expected collection of fares related to these projections.


Moving Forward with RTS in Montgomery


Proposed Rapid Transit System Map

Montgomery County has adopted plans for a bus rapid transit system (RTS) of nearly 96 miles. This system includes not only the long planned Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) of 15 miles but a separately planned system of nearly 81 miles.

Proposed and pushed relentlessly by at-large Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich, the plan to add 81 miles is the most ambitious effort to expand public transit in the area since Metro. While other jurisdictions, including DC and Alexandria, are ahead of Montgomery in moving ahead with RTS, Montgomery’s is the most extensive network.

The above schematic map shows the proposed routes as well as the planned light-rail Purple Line and CCT. The map produced by Communities for Transit, an RTS advocacy group, uses the familiar Metro system design, which makes it look attractive but also misleadingly suggests that RTS is heavy rail like Metro. It’s not. Repeat: map looks like Metro; system is not Metro.

On the other hand, I understand the drive by proponents to avoid the word “bus.” In the DC area, people associate the buses with Metrobuses–the slowest still moving form of transportation ever invented. Drivers perceive buses as barely moving hulks to avoid and to pass. Though RTS is not heavy rail, it is also definitely not Metrobus.

RTS buses move much faster and are much nicer, more analogous to light or heavy rail cars. These buses are also designed to approach platforms at level–again like Metro or light rail–so there is no climbing up or down.

Greater speed than conventional buses is achieved because RTS buses usually travel in their own dedicated lanes. There can be two lanes on either side of the street along the curb or two in the median. Alternatively, in tighter areas, there may just be one lane that switches direction. Buses traveling in the direction of heavy traffic use the dedicated lane while buses going in the other direction travel with regular traffic.

In some areas with little room, the buses may have to travel in regular traffic in both directions. However, even in these areas, RTS buses can go faster than regular buses because they communicate to hold the traffic lights so that they can make the lights if they are close to the light but it’s about to change.

People often wonder why we don’t just expand Metro, like the delayed Silver Line in Virginia, or build light rail, like the planned Purple Line, instead. They reason is cost. RTS is far cheaper than either of these methods. This item from the Communities for Transit presentation caught my eye:


In Salt Lake City, light rail would have been ten times as expensive as the RTS alternative. The price difference means that Montgomery can get far more bang for the buck with RTS. Indeed, the CCT was originally planned as a light rail but is now expected to be a bus rapid transit system, so that it is financially feasible.

The low cost is critical because, even with the Governor’s successful  drive to take measures to expand Maryland’s transportation fund, there is not nearly enough money for all of the State’s transportation priorities from roads and Baltimore’s Red Line to MARC and Metro (those elevators. . . ).

One of the most appealing aspects of RTS is the potential, and it remains just potential, to help weaken the battles between civic groups and developers. Developers want greater density while civics worry about the impact on infrastructure, especially the increased traffic.

The Montgomery RTS plan allows more growth to occur in the context of a system designed to address heightened traffic and also to spread development, along with its benefits and problems, around a much larger area rather than one or two nodes. It recognizes that Montgomery remains a spread out suburban area even as we develop multiple new urban centers.

According to Communities for Transit, RTS does produce additional investment:


And growth needs to occur to provide jobs and income, as well as to pay the taxes to regenerate our aging infrastructure and expand it. The key is to invest the public transit money wisely.