Tuesday, August 11, 2015

New auto plant in Moreno Valley grows the case for reverse commute and Coachella Valley service

With the announcement that Fisker Automotive will be building a factory for a new line of electric vehicles in Moreno Valley, it's time to acknowledge that the Inland Empire is becoming a worthy urban area in its own right rather than merely a suburban home for workers in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

This is hardly an unexpected development of course: It's not merely residential land prices that have been rising in the more coastal areas of Southern California, but industrial and commercial as well. Meanwhile, commutes on the 91 best described as a hellish abomination, dropping to an average speed of 14-22 mph. It's only natural then, that, that companies are increasingly taking advantage of the lower land prices and and lower wages that need to be paid to employees (on account of the lowered housing prices) and turning the Inland Empire into a jobs center.

As the Inland Empire becomes more and more important, it behooves California, Riverside County, and LOSSAN to recognize this with appropriate rail services. Frequencies upon the Riverside and 91 Lines need to be both increased and have reverse commute service added and added urgency should be given to make the Coachella Valley service, which has been languishing in study hell for the past 30 years, an actual reality. This particular plant isn't a justification in and of itself for such service: It's not ideally located for train service, either commuter or intercity, and I don't expect Fisker to become a major player. It is, however, an important symbol of the increasing importance of the Inland Empire which deserves such service.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Pacific Surfliner Ridership Update

At the upcoming 7/9/2015 Technical Advisory Committee meeting, LOSSAN is providing an update on the Pacific Surfliner's ridership and for those of us with an interest in some of the nuts and bolts of the data, it's like Christmas in July. Unfortunately it doesn't have all the information one might want; the station-pair information is vague rather than specific as LOSSAN used to receive a decade ago and as the Capitol Corridor is currently releasing, but it does continue great information nonetheless; in particular, the average monthly ridership per train, broken down into coach and business, is quite possibly unprecedented.

It's a bit unfortunate that the ridership doesn't show the values, but luckily it's possible to extract it. I've also included a daily ridership figure in order to better show off 761/1761 and 790/1790 which are the only two frequencies which receive separate numbers for running on weekdays and weekends.  I'm a bit mystified, honestly, by that, since there are other trains which have separate weekend timings, but don't receive a different number for it. For the purpose of this, I've assumed an average month has 30 days, 8 of which are weekends.

TrainTotal ridershipBusiness classCoachBusiness %Daily ridership
562
6,474
433
6,041
6.7%
216
564
5,491
642
4,849
11.7%
183
565
6,439
749
5,690
11.6%
215
566
5,807
784
5,023
13.5%
194
567
7,177
749
6,428
10.4%
239
572
6,088
853
5,235
14.0%
203
573
6,826
783
6,043
11.5%
228
579
5,666
819
4,847
14.5%
189
580
9,423
1,346
8,077
14.3%
314
582
10,268
1,065
9,202
10.4%
342
583
6,896
1,065
5,831
15.4%
230
591
8,547
995
7,552
11.6%
285
595
4,718
328
4,390
6.9%
157
761
3,383
256
3,128
7.6%
154
763
14,342
1,908
12,434
13.3%
478
768
12,797
1,768
11,029
13.8%
427
769
12,761
2,049
10,713
16.1%
425
774
14,483
2,505
11,977
17.3%
483
777
13,218
2,154
11,064
16.3%
441
784
19,751
2,189
17,562
11.1%
658
785
16,274
2,152
14,121
13.2%
542
790
9,987
1,276
8,711
12.8%
454
796
8,090
714
7,376
8.8%
270
1761
1,452
152
1,300
10.5%
181
1790
4,894
609
4,285
12.4%
612
761/1761
4,835
408
4,427
8.4%
161
790/1790
14,880
1,885
12,996
12.7%
496

I've also redone the chart to join the weekday and weekend trains, making it quite apparent that the 790/1790 pair performs significantly better than the original chart makes it appear.

From the passenger miles per train, we can also determine how far the typical journey is per train and how productive each train is in terms of passenger miles per train mile.


And, of course, here's the information for that in spreadsheet form:

Train Total ridership Passenger miles (000s) Average trip length Passenger miles/train mile
562
6,474
363.1
56.1
95
564
5,491
386.2
70.3
101
565
6,439
461.2
71.6
120
566
5,807
438.1
75.4
114
567
7,177
458.3
63.9
119
572
6,088
472.8
77.7
123
573
6,826
481.4
70.5
125
579
5,666
424.9
75.0
111
580
9,423
694.9
73.7
181
582
10,268
657.4
64.0
171
583
6,896
539.1
78.2
140
591
8,547
720.9
84.3
188
595
4,718
317.0
67.2
83
761
3,383
293.9
86.9
60
763
14,342
1,176.7
82.0
163
768
12,797
1,119.0
87.4
155
769
12,761
1,292.1
101.3
179
774
14,483
1,759.5
121.5
168
777
13,218
1,574.9
119.1
150
784
19,751
1,603.7
81.2
222
785
16,274
1,537.2
94.5
213
790
9,987
1,009.1
101.0
131
796
8,090
665.9
82.3
92
1761
1,452
152.5
105.1
86
1790
4,894
536.2
109.6
192
761/1761
4,835
446
92.3
67
790/1790
14,880
1,545
103.8
147

So what are some conclusions we can draw from this?

First and foremost, 761 (and the weekend 1761) are absolutely abysmal. This is the current northbound Coast Daylight slot and one hopes that there would be a significant increase in traffic when it is actually extended to San Jose or San Francisco as the Coast Daylight (eventually, one day, quite possibly just a few minutes before the universe dies of heat death). That's not necessarily an unreasonable proposition, 790/1790 is the southbound counterpart and is an above average performer. It's probably a case of leaving Los Angeles too early in the morning without a correspondingly significant destination to arrive at.

Amtrak has been suggesting the past year that the Coast Daylight would be better off running from San Diego to San Jose rather than Los Angeles to San Francisco. At the same time, LOSSAN has been looking at an early morning from San Diego using existing equipment. It seems pretty obvious that 761/1761 should be extended to be an early morning (approximately 5:00 AM) departure from San Diego, picking up commuter traffic and possibly some early morning business and theme park travelers, before continuing on its current low performing route. I honestly don't expect it to pick up too much additional Amtrak traffic, the Surfliner's primary market being leisure travel, though Metrolink monthly pass holders would likely be quite pleased with it, but it's worth the experiment: As it is, with the current Surfliner average yield of 28¢ per passenger-mile, and an estimated $35 per train-mile in marginal operating expenses, 761/1761 currently covers about half of its running costs, possibly less as it is significantly below the average for business class use as well. The first three departures from San Diego are above or close to break even and the first departure, which also heads continues north of Los Angeles, is the best performing of them. If it averages the same as the current 500-series trains (which run only between San Diego and Los Angeles), which is just over break-even under the above assumptions, it would mean an additional 82,900 annual riders and $1.67 million in revenue for the Surfliner.

There's also good reason to believe that continuing to extend the current 500-series trains north of Los Angeles will result in improved ridership and revenue. These full (or "fuller," depending on how you wish to consider San Luis Obispo as part of the Surfliner) length runs are 29% more productive, in terms of passenger-miles per train-mile, than are the 500-series trains, and have average trip lengths 25% longer, something that shouldn't be too surprising since the corridor is nearly doubled by the extension to Santa Barbara. LOSSAN should continue to improve the locally owned portions of the line north of Los Angeles, terminating at Chatsworth with a new layover facility for as many trains as possible if need be, while pushing for improvements by Union Pacific to the Santa Barbara Subdivision.

Lastly, I have a chart created on a bit of a whimsy that I'm not sure actually shows anything terribly significant except that the first and last trains of a day underperform (which may undercut the rationale for a 5:00 AM San Diego departure) and possibly that people want to take a train around meal times. With Los Angeles as the top station for the Surfliner, and being the origin or destination for 21% of passengers, I looked at the productivity (in terms of passenger-miles per train-mile) for trains according to when the train arrived or departed Los Angeles. It would be better, of course, to have the information as to how many passengers are actually on board a train during any given hour of the day, but I'm not sure even Amtrak has that information, at least not without a rather laborious process of collection.