Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Have Metrolink Express trains been a success?

On May 9th, Metrolink introduced express train service along the Antelope Valley and San Bernardino lines. These lines both received a pair of express trains, one heading to Los Angeles in the morning, and one leaving Los Angeles again in the evening. Now that a few months have passed, ridership data for the months of May and June have been posted, allowing us to see whether the faster train times resulted in higher ridership.

Antelope Valley Line total ridership
April 2010: 141,616
May 2010: 132,876
June 2010: 139,586
April 2011: 137,327
May 2011: 142,024
June 2011: 144,762

San Bernardino Line
April 2010: 281,242
May 2010: 268,550
June 2010: 279,766
April 2011: 290,095
May 2011: 295,575
June 2011: 298,514

Even a simple eyeballing of the numbers indicates that the combination of additional service and express trains has resulted in much higher ridership than would otherwise have been expected. However, the express trains appear to be underperforming. AV 282, the morning express service, averaged 214 passengers per weekday. That's only 55-60% of the performance of its preceding and following local services which averaged 383 and 349 passengers respectively. Similarly, the afternoon AV 285 averaged 291 passengers against the 411 and 366 of its earlier and later trains.

San Bernardino does far better however. SB 383 averages 522 passengers per weekday to Los Angeles, substantially better than the earlier SB 305 with 279 passengers and close to the following SB 307 with 583 passengers. In the afternoon, SB 384 carried an average of 563 passengers, substantially better than its neighboring trains at 531 and 511 passengers.

There are two explanations that come readily to mind for why the Antelope Valley express trains do so poorly. The first is that the commuting population is more concentrated in the stops served by the express trains on the San Bernardino Line than they are on the Antelope Valley Line. Considering the 2007 boarding pattern, the express train only serves 36% of commuters and serves the first, fourth, and eighth (third to last) busiest stations. Meanwhile, the San Bernardino line served the busiest three stations representing 46% of the total commuters.

The second explanation may simply be a lack of sufficient time saving to draw a suitably large number of commuters from other trains and from cars. The new express trains, if on time which the AV trains had some trouble doing at first, are slightly less than half an hour faster than their local counterparts (with the noted exception of SB 383 being 45 minutes earlier than its predecessor, arriving 15 minutes before it despite leaving 30 minutes later). San Bernardino is now competitive in terms of trip time with cars, although it is still slower when one accounts for the first and last mile problem of mass transit. Antelope Valley, however, is still slower than the car (in both cases, using Google Maps to determine trip time). In this case, the dominating factor is going to be the arrival timing since it cannot function as a suitable alternative to road congestion for those who are intent on minimizing their transit time.

1 comment:

  1. And of course two months is hardly enough time to expect a new service to reach full potential. I would be interested in seeing the ridership statistics in 3-, 6-, and 12-month intervals, to allow time for word-of-mouth advertisement and such for the new service. If there is a ridership increase significantly greater than one standard deviation year-over-year between 5/2011 and 5/2012 compared to 5/2010 and 5/2011, then we can say that the new service has had an impact. And we can use intermediate numbers to extrapolate whether it is, in fact, having an impact.

    Also, I notice that the Antelope Valley Line ridership dropped by almost 10,000 between May and June 2010 and seems to have been increasing month-over-month back to that level since. What would be the cause of such a passenger drop?