June 3, 2014
I’ve been trying, and struggling, to write a post about Metrolink for a while. I just couldn’t put anything together that I thought might add to the conversation. It finally dawned on me that I was putting the cart before the horse (and horses don’t run in push-pull operation). The first thing to do is just watch, listen, and learn about the existing state of affairs. So, here’s the first installment of looking at Metrolink ridership. Let’s see what’s going on.
Metrolink publishes quarterly ridership data, with the quarter ending in December 2013 being the most recently available data. The data is broken down by station, so we can see which stations generate the most ridership.
The highest ridership stations are dominated by the OC Line, Riverside Line, and San Bernardino Line. As you’d expect, Glendale and Burbank make a good showing as well, though maybe not as good as you’d think considering how well Irvine and Tustin perform. What surprised me the most? Industry! Though in hindsight, a ride from the big honkin’ park-and-ride in Industry to Downtown LA, with only one stop in between, is probably not a bad deal compared to the 60. Oceanside also surprises to the high side.
At the other end, the Ventura Line and Antelope Valley Line perform poorly – perhaps shockingly poorly in the case of the stations in the Valley. Van Nuys doesn’t even hit 200 boardings, and Sun Valley not even 100. The Ventura County stations beyond Moorpark (Camarillo, Oxnard, and East Ventura) generate very low ridership that calls the benefit of those far-flung stations into question. The distant Orange County stations (Laguna Niguel, San Juan Capistrano, and San Clemente) similarly disappoint. Commerce is comically low, since there’s little parking and the surrounding area is thoroughly industrial.
The data available on Metrolink’s website stretches back to July 2009, which lets us construct a rolling 12-month average for all stations starting in June 2010. Here’s the time series data, broken down by line.
There’s a disturbing downward trend on many of the lines, especially the Antelope Valley Line and San Bernardino Line. On the other hand: Tustin and Irvine!
Here’s a look at the top 10 and bottom 10 stations for ridership gained (or lost) over the period.
Other than Downtown Pomona sneaking in at number 10, the top ten is all the Orange County Line and the 91 Line. And again: Tustin and Irvine! Who says Orange County can’t generate any transit ridership? (Note: I used absolute change rather than percentage change, since percentage favors the low ridership stations. If you used percentage, Orange would drop out, and Commerce – which picked up all of 8 riders – would be in.)
Now the bad news.
No two ways about it, that’s ugly. Five stations have shed over 20% of their ridership, with three more not far behind.
The silver lining is that there’s a pattern to ridership changes. The Orange County Line and the 91 Line have been the big winners, and the San Bernardino Line and Antelope Valley Line have been the big losers. There should be an opportunity to figure out what’s going right down in OC, and what’s going wrong on the AV & SB Lines. It could be as simple as the fact that OC & Riverside are doing a little better economically than LA & SB. But it should be explored.
For one thing, there’s a bunch of new riders in Orange & Riverside Counties. Somebody ought to ask them what they were doing before and why they decided to take the train. On the flip side, there’s a bunch of people who used to ride the AV Line and SB Line, or board at Industry, but aren’t doing that anymore. Obviously, they’re a little harder to find than the folks who are on the train, but it’s worth trying to figure out why they stopped riding.
From there, we can start to think about how to capitalize on the momentum on the Orange County Line and 91 Line to keep increasing ridership. And we can try to figure out why three lines that serve the densely populated San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys aren’t serving people as well as they should, and what we might do to make those lines more useful.
What do you think? What trends do you see in the ridership, and what challenges and opportunities are there?