Light rail ridership continues to increase.
Average weekday boardings on the Main Street line, which opened Jan. 1, were 32,292 last month, according to Metropolitan Transit Authority data. That’s the first time the average count has topped 30,000. Daily ridership has steadily climbed since the 12,102 recorded in January, thanks mostly to changes made to connect bus routes with the trains.
Total ridership for September was 817,020, also a record high, Metro reported.
The light rail carried its second-highest passenger load Sept. 2, when the Houston Texans played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a preseason game at Reliant Stadium.
That day’s count of 42,488 boardings was excluded from the average daily tabulations because the special event could skew the numbers, according to Metro.
That’s good, and I hope they keep it up. The next lines are going to start getting built soon, and the more people are using rail now, the faster those lines will see ridership increase.
While we’re on the subject of new transportation options, I wondered how ridership on the rail line compares to that of the new Westpark toll road. Turns out that information is hard to find. I posted a question asking what the ridership numbers were and how they compared to projections on the Katy Corridor Coalition Yahoo group, and got this response from Polly Ledvina:
HCTRA is really difficult to pry information from. I made a phone call to their general information number (832-601-7800) and asked about the ridership on Westpark. I was transferred to “Public Information” where I was told that there have been 641,307 “transactions” for the period of Sep 18 – Oct 3rd (this apparently covers the period since it was extended to highway 6). I asked how this number of transactions compares to projected numbers. The HCTRA representative did not know the answer to that question or where I could find out. I was also told that there are no sites on the internet that you can link to for ridership information.
Which leads to a question: Why is it that Metro makes its rail numbers public, but the Harris County Toll Road Authority doesn’t? Aren’t they both public entities? The Westpark toll road uses EZTags exclusively, so we should have an exact count available to us. Why isn’t it public knowledge?
Breaking that transactions number down, I’m told (having never driven on this road) that it’s common to have multiple transactions per trip. So 640,000 transactions over 16 days is 40,000 per day, which may represent 20,000 or 30,000 actual cars per day. That number should of course also be readily available to us, since each EZTag is uniquely identifiable, but it’s not.
There’s still the question of how the road is doing versus how people thought it would do. This Houston Press article from 1998 sheds a little bit of light.
By now, if businessman Jim Murphy’s dream had come true, more than 81,000 cars a day would be using a toll road stretching nearly 13 miles from Shepherd and U.S. 59 out to the Sam Houston Tollway. Those 81,000 cars would be bypassing the clogged surface roads on a high-tech tollway where no one would have to stop to hand money over to a booth attendant and where the prices charged would vary according to the number of riders per car and the time of day.
[Metro board chairman Robert] Miller isn’t sure the proposed toll road will work. Much of the $350 million or so needed for construction would come from revenue bonds; the number of bonds that could be sold depends on traffic projections done by an independent financial firm.
That study is not yet complete. “I haven’t seen it,” Miller says, “but my understanding is that it does not show a high degree of ridership.”
It’s not an official figure, but 81,000 is still a lot more than 40,000, and that’s the high end of actual use. Was Miller right to be a skeptic? Note also that while the road doesn’t extend inside the Loop, it does go all the way out to Highway 6. So was this irrational exuberance or not? I just want to see some data. What do you say, HCTRA?