April 06, 2004
Rail ridership

Rob and I don't see eye to eye on the light rail line, but he asks a decent question about its reported ridership numbers: Where is Metro getting its figures from?

Naively, I'd assume that they start with the ticket sales from their automated machines, and do some extrapolation from there. I've only ever bothered to buy single-trip tickets, so I haven't looked closely enough to see what other options there are. For instance, I know there's a day pass, but is there a week or month pass? You have to make some assumption about how many times a day pass rider boards, after all. I presume the same would be true for longer-lasting passes, if they exist. In each case, here is where the mathematical mojo is at work. What's their model? Two rides per day pass? More?

My experience so far, all of which has been mid- to late-morning, is that the trains have been fairly full. It's certainly the case that every time I drive past the Smithlands station (one stop north of Reliant Stadium), the waiting area is well populated. It's pretty convenient for me to take from work into the Medical Center or downtown when I've got a daytime errand to run. Driving is a bit faster, but not having to find and pay for a place to park more than makes up for it to me.

I do believe that the ridership numbers are as good as or better than originally projected, but I'd feel better about that if I knew what their methodology for counting it up was.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 06, 2004 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

It's a very complex formula...

Add up the following:
Ticket sales times two
Arrests for failing to buy ticket times seven
Cigarette butts times six two
Gum wrappers times three
Used condoms times five

Vehicles hit by the train times 10
Number of times Lee Brown says we're World Class

Place nubmers on Texas Lottery ticket, win $25 million, and move to a city that has a real rail system.

Posted by: Laurence Simon on April 6, 2004 3:13 PM

The lack of turnstiles or some other method of controlling access creates two problems:

1. The free-rider effect, literally
2. Difficulty in counting passengers

When I rode the train, the commuter I talked with said that he had bought a monthly pass, but I don't find that on METRO's web site.

To count rail riders, you have to count people who bought one-way tickets, passes (day pass = $2), people who transfer from a bus, and freeloaders.

I assume they're doing some sort of estimation, putting an individual counting riders at each station for all the hours the rail is running would be cost-prohibitive (I hope). I don't think there are cameras at every stop.

So the question remains for METRO, how did they come up with the statement "558,257 boardings estimated for January?" That's a pretty definitive number.

Posted by: Rob Booth (Slightly Rough) on April 6, 2004 6:25 PM

I haven't been on the light rail here yet, but when I had a monthly pass for the light rail in San Jose, I just got on and off the train as I pleased, never running it through anything or even showing it unless asked by a ticket checking guy. I always wondered how VTA accounted for those of us with monthly passes, as well as the San Jose State students who had stickers on their student IDs that let them ride any VTA bus/train. They did have people on the trains now and again who were counting heads, so maybe Metro is doing that, too.

I keep meaning to go ride light rail, if only to see how I'd get a ticket with my Stored Value card I use on the bus.

Posted by: Sue on April 7, 2004 9:41 PM