News & Politics

Metro Ridership Has Dropped at Nearly Every Station Since 2011

Photograph via iStock.

Metro has shed tens of thousands of riders over the past five years. This decline is despite significant population growth in the DC region during the same period. Decreasing reliability coupled with the rise of biking and car shares have led more and more residents to quit Metro. While the Metro system as a whole has seen a decline over the past five years, changes in ridership vary greatly across the system. Some areas, in fact, have even seen increases in riders in recent years. The map below shows average weekday ridership for each Metro station from 2011 to 2015.

The vast majority of Metro stations, 72 of the 86 stations that were open in 2011, saw declines in average weekday ridership from 2011 to 2015. West Falls Church experienced the most dramatic decline, with more than a 70 percent drop in weekday ridership. But the majority of this decline occurred after the Silver line opened and likely reflects people switching to a Silver Line station. Ridership drops of over 20 percent occurred both at terminal stations like Largo and Franconia-Springfield as well as downtown stations like Federal Triangle. But not all stations saw a decline. Metro ridership grew at stations near some of the District’s biggest construction booms. The NoMa station experienced the greatest increase, with an increase rise in average weekday ridership of more than 20 percent. The Navy Yard, Mount Vernon, and Rhode Island Ave. stations all had nearly or more than 10 percent growth in riders.

Increasingly, Metro is a way to and from work, but nothing more. Over the past five years, ridership has consolidated around commuting hours of the morning rush, from 5 to 9:30 AM and the afternoon peak, between 3 and 7 PM. On weekdays, the average ridership during the morning and afternoon peak hours is nearly twice the ridership during any other period of the day. From 2011 to 2015 these were also the periods of the day where ridership fell the least. Weekday ridership during the late-night peak, from 9:30 PM to midnight, fell the most with a nearly 30 percent decline. While the late-night peak was already the least popular time during the week to take Metro, more and more riders are leaving it to find other transportation options.

Ridership decline can create a vicious cycle for Metro. With fewer people riding Metro because they find it unreliable, there is less revenue to make the Metro more reliable. With a new manager, new railcars, and new initiatives underway, Metro is trying hard to win over residents. It’s unclear if that will be enough.

Technical notes: Data shown is from WMATA and was released on its PlanItMetro blog. You can find complete code for this post on my GitHub page.