Tag Archives: Metrolink

Metrolink Ridership Update – December 2015 Edition

Time for an update on Metrolink ridership, up through FY16Q2 (October – December 2015) data. Here’s the breakdown of data by stations.

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Last time, we mentioned that it looked like the declines in ridership had started to level out, and hoped that new Metrolink CEO Art Leahy would be able to get those numbers moving in the right direction. Ridership has started to creep back up at many stations, but the effect of the $2 station-to-station fare on the Antelope Valley Line is undeniable. It still has a long way to go just to get back to where it was, but it’s better than further declines.

With that, I’ll let the graphics speak for themselves. Here’s the update of the rolling 12-month averages, broken down by line.

Ventura-20160206AV-20160206BG-20160206SB-20160206Riverside-2016020691-20160206OC-2016020691OC-20160206AC-20160206

Here’s a look at the top 10 and bottom 10 stations for ridership gained (or lost) over the period from June 2010 to December 2015 (all based on rolling 12-month averages).

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Metrolink Ridership Update – March 2015

Time for an update on Metrolink ridership, including FY15Q3 (January – March 2015) data. Here’s the breakdown of data by stations.

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As we discussed last time, while ridership has still been declining, it looks like the trend has started to level out. Hopefully, new Metrolink CEO Art Leahy will be able to get those numbers moving in the right direction. The $2 station to station fare pilot program is certainly a step in the right direction. The Antelope Valley Line is the pilot, so downtown Burbank, which is a reasonably large trip attractor, is included. However, the program started July 1, so we won’t see any results in ridership for at least another 4-5 months, when FY16Q1 data become available.

With that, I’ll let the graphics speak for themselves. Here’s the update of the rolling 12-month averages, broken down by line.

Ventura-20150706 AV-20150706 BG-20150706 SB-20150706 Riverside-20150706 91-20150706 OC-20150706 91OC-20150706 AC-20150706

Here’s a look at the top 10 and bottom 10 stations for ridership gained (or lost) over the period from June 2010 to March 2015 (all based on rolling 12-month averages). The top 10 and bottom 10 are all unchanged. The best trending stations continue to be in Orange County and Riverside County, while the worst trending stations continue to be on the San Bernardino and Antelope Valley lines.

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Metrolink Ridership Update – April 2015

Time for an update on Metrolink ridership, including FY15Q2 (October-December 2014) data. Here’s the breakdown of data by stations.

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As we’ll see, it looks like the downward trend in ridership has finally started to level out. Hopefully this trend continues and ridership starts to pick up, as Metrolink works to address equipment reliability issues. Of course, the impact of new Metrolink CEO Art Leahy’s move to a different floor at One Gateway has yet to play out.

With that, I’ll let the graphics speak for themselves. Here’s the update of the rolling 12-month averages, broken down by line.

Ventura-20150407 AV-20150407 BG-20150407 SB-20150407 Riverside-20150407 91-20150407 OC-20150407 91OC-20150407 AC-20150407

Here’s a look at the top 10 and bottom 10 stations for ridership gained (or lost) over the period from June 2010 to December 2014 (all based on rolling 12-month averages). The top 10 are unchanged, while in the bottom 10, El Monte, Via Princessa, and San Bernardino replaced Montclair, Santa Clarita, and Pomona North.

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Rethinking Metrolink, Part 1

Last summer, after struggling for a few months to try to write something productive about Metrolink, I decided to just listen to ridership data and media stories for a while. Ridership data has not been good; with the exception of the Inland Empire – Orange County Line, all lines have been steadily losing ridership. The malfunctions of ticket-vending machines have been well chronicled, as have the agencies troubles with equipment and its finances.

The first order of business is putting the house in order. That means getting finances and maintenance squared away, so that trains run on time and passengers can pay their fares. The second issue is a bit more meta: what is Metrolink, how does it relate to the geography of development in Southern California, and how can that be improved? The latter issue is the one set before us today.

SoCal Commuter Rail

Conceptually, Metrolink is no different than traditional East Coast US commuter rail systems such as those in Boston (MBTA), New York (Metro North, LIRR, NJT), and Philadelphia (SEPTA). These networks are designed to convey relatively well-off white collar workers from suburbs to a single dominant central business district in the morning and then back in the evening. As such, they are typified by very peaky service, that is, service is quite frequent towards the CBD on weekday mornings and towards the suburbs on weekday evenings, and very infrequent or non-existent at other times.

This is a poor route and service structure for Southern California. Metrolink is arranged to bring people to downtown LA in the morning and home in the afternoon, but downtown LA is just one of many business districts in greater LA. Its traditional industries, government and finance, have seen slow or no job growth. Office vacancy is higher than on the Westside, and downtown’s boom has been almost entirely residential – people who obviously don’t need to get downtown in the morning, because they’re already there! To complicate things, LA Union Station is on the very fringe of downtown, requiring a transfer to the Red/Purple Line to access the business district.

In contrast to East Coast cities, LA is polycentric. This creates both challenges and opportunities for a rail service like Metrolink. Peer systems in regions that also have major business districts outside of the central city would include:

  • Caltrain, which serves both a traditional downtown in SF and a significant reverse commute to Silicon Valley.
  • Paris RER, which serves an enormous peripheral business district (La Defense) that puts Century City to shame.
  • Seoul, which has numerous business districts both in the city proper (such as Yongsan, Gangnam, and Jongno) and outside (such as Incheon and Songdo). Seoul also has truly integrated subway and commuter rail lines like Line 1, baffling many a US observer.

What Lines Does Metrolink Have?

Metrolink’s lines have different characteristics, both amongst themselves and from many other commuter rail lines. The lines currently operated by Metrolink are as follows:

  • Ventura Line: this line travels from downtown LA past Glendale and Burbank, then through the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County. Its entire route is shared with Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, which runs from San Luis Obispo to San Diego. There are some daily freight trains on the line, but nothing out of the ordinary.
  • Antelope Valley Line: this line travels from downtown LA, sharing track with the Ventura Line past Glendale and Burbank, north through the San Fernando Valley and Santa Clarita. It crosses the San Gabriel Mountains through Soledad Pass to the Antelope Valley communities of Palmdale and Lancaster. Again, there are some daily freight trains on the line, but nothing out of the ordinary.
  • San Bernardino Line: this line travels east from downtown LA through the San Gabriel Valley and southwest San Bernardino County to San Bernardino. Freight traffic is minimal on this line, consisting almost entirely of local service.
  • Riverside Line: this line travels east from downtown LA through the City of Industry, Ontario, and northwest Riverside County to Riverside. This is UP’s Los Angeles Subdivision, which together with UP’s Alhambra Subdivision serves over 50 freight trains per day, including both long distance and local traffic.
  • 91 Line: this line travels southeast from downtown LA to Fullerton, then east and northeast to Riverside and San Bernardino. Freight volumes are between 40 and 50 trains per day from LA to Fullerton, increasing to nearly 70 trains per day between Riverside and the infamous, and now defunct, Colton Crossing.
  • Orange County Line: this line shares track with the 91 Line from downtown LA to Fullerton, and then runs southeast through Orange County all the way to Oceanside. There is some freight traffic south of the split with the 91 Line, but nothing out of the ordinary.
  • Inland Empire – Orange County Line: this line runs from Riverside to Oceanside, almost entirely on the same track as the 91 Line and Orange County Line.

The freight volumes on the Riverside Line and 91 Line are an unusual condition for a commuter rail operation. Most East Coast lines don’t compete with freight volumes anywhere near this high. The comparable lines would be Chicago Metra’s UP West, BNSF, and Heritage Corridor Services. Impressively, the UP West and BNSF Lines provide at least hourly service (with a few exceptions) from early morning to late night, even to shockingly low density places like Elburn and La Fox. These lines have many areas of triple track, with more planned, but freight congestion is apparently still an issue. The Heritage Corridor runs only three round trips per day.

What Areas Does Metrolink Serve?

Metrolink serves many different parts of the region, with different travel demand and therefore differing transit needs. As I see it, the Metrolink service region can be broken down as follows:

  • Ventura County: located too far for commuting to downtown LA to generate high ridership. Simi Valley has less than 400 boardings, and Moorpark less than 250. Stations further west do not even achieve 100. These stations can probably be adequately served by improved Pacific Surfliner service and perhaps some express bus.
  • Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley: the three Santa Clarita stations combined pull about 1,000 riders, but Santa Clarita doesn’t have a central business area that could serve as an anchor. The stations are not in particularly dense areas and function as park-and-ride style transit. The Antelope Valley stations are much further away, with each having less than 400 boardings. With the expansion of HOV lanes on the 14 and the 5, many of these riders could be served by peaky transit express bus, which both Santa Clarita Transit and Antelope Valley Transit already operate in direct competition with Metrolink. (Plus, Lancaster Mayor R Rex Parris is not exactly Metrolink’s best friend.)
  • San Fernando Valley: given that the Valley is mostly relatively dense suburbs, the Metrolink stations there achieve appallingly low ridership. Why would you get on Metrolink at Van Nuys, where there are only 22 round trips per day, and pay $7.25 one way when the same trip on Metro services would cost $1.75 with much more frequent services? High-cost infrequent commuter rail is not the right type of service for the Valley; service here should run on rapid transit schedules with rapid transit fares.
  • Burbank Airport – Irvine corridor: this is the highest intensity corridor served by Metrolink, including Burbank, Glendale, downtown LA, and the major Orange County cities (Anaheim, Santa Ana, and Irvine). The curveball is that the heart of the corridor – downtown LA to Fullerton – happens to be BNSF’s main line from the ports to the rest of America. It serves high freight volumes and is abutted by large industrial zones. Thus, while the portion north of LA might be appropriate for rapid transit frequencies, the southern portion isn’t, because abutting land use doesn’t support it and freight traffic won’t allow it. However, the entire corridor is suitable for regional rail service. As Paul Druce of Reason Rail has noted elsewhere, the reverse commute potential on this corridor is just as strong as the normal direction.
  • San Gabriel Valley and San Bernardino County: the western San Gabriel Valley is similar to the San Fernando Valley, and might warrant rapid transit frequency. Further east, the San Bernardino Line continues through established suburbs to San Bernardino, a major node in the Inland Empire. With decent anchors at both ends and a minor node at Claremont in the middle, the San Bernardino Line should warrant relatively frequent service.
  • City of Industry & Riverside Line: the Industry station gets about 1,000 boardings per day, though this is a 30% decline from 2010. This is sort of a super express to downtown LA since there’s only one stop in between. None of the other stations on the line achieve inspiring ridership. However, the lack of HOV lanes on the 60 west of the 605 suggests that it would be hard to replicate this service with bus.
  • Corona – San Bernardino Corridor: this corridor parallels the 91 and the 215, two congested Riverside County freeways. Corona is a minor node, and Riverside is a major business district for the Inland Empire. The density along the corridor isn’t bad, but it’s much shallower than the San Bernardino Line, thanks to anti-development cities like Norco, Jurupa Valley, and Riverside. This corridor is suitable for regional rail, though not with the same level of service as Burbank – Irvine.
  • South Orange County: south of Irvine, Orange County development is similar to Santa Clarita and much of Ventura County in that there aren’t any major business nodes. The stations get relatively low ridership, with less than 400 in Laguna Niguel, and less than 200 in San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano. Oceanside gets a surprising amount of ridership, perhaps due to connections to Sprinter and Coaster services. However, this region could probably be served by improved Pacific Surfliner service.

Missing Links

If you want to run rapid transit style services in the San Fernando Valley and western San Gabriel Valley, you don’t want to dead-end them in downtown LA, because it would result in unbalanced demand. So what would you connect them to? There are lots of good options to be discussed; here’s one:

  • Chatsworth – Santa Ana: the existing out-of-service rail corridor between downtown LA and Santa Ana is high on the Measure R2 wish list; connecting it to the Chatsworth to downtown LA service would balance the line. This line would relieve the Orange Line in the Valley, and provide transit to dense cities like Maywood, Bell, Cudahy, and the Gateway Cities. This would be the highest priority.
  • Sylmar – Long Beach: this would overlap with the Chatsworth – Santa Ana service from Burbank to Paramount. The northern section would provide frequent service to San Fernando, while the southern section would help relieve the Blue Line. This would be the second priority.
  • Purple Line to El Monte: this would balance the Purple Line and provide a one seat ride from the San Gabriel Valley to the Westside. It would be the most technically challenging expansion. While the first two lines could be built with standard DMUs (or future EMUs) compatible with other equipment on the liens, Purple Line vehicles have different dimensions that would complicate design. Such an option would have to be accomplished by rerouting Metrolink regional rail to the Alhambra Subdivision from downtown LA to El Monte, or with a technological trick like platform extenders.
  • Conceptual Red Line extensions: these don’t involve the Metrolink lines, but are shown for discussion. An extension north would connect to the Sylmar – Long Beach Line. An extension southeast would provide rapid transit to East LA, Montebello, Pico Rivera, and Whittier. If north-south rapid bus services were implemented on major roads like Atlantic or Lakewood, they would offer transfers to this line, eliminating need for transfers to the LA – Fullerton section of the regional rail line.

Combine this with a couple north-south transit routes on the Westside and in the Valley, like say Reseda/Lincoln Blvds and Van Nuys/Sepulveda Blvds, and you’ve got a pretty solid rapid transit network for Los Angeles.

Regional Rail Services

San Fernando to Irvine is the obvious main corridor for regional rail. That leaves a set of three lines – San Bernardino, Riverside, and 91 – that don’t lend themselves easily to through-routing. C-shaped routes tend to perform poorly because the potential to serve trips passing through the central area is very low. Again, there are many options; here’s one:

  • Through-route the San Bernardino Line and 91 Line into the second regional rail line. Yes, this creates a very tight C, almost a closed loop. This could be mitigated by various means, explored in part 2.
  • Do what you will with the Riverside Line – replace with express bus or keep running it as a super express, whatever you see fit. There’s no reason it has to provide the same frequency or fare structure as the other lines.

The Reveal

At long last, here’s a map of all this:

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I drew this in Scribble Maps, my first time using that tool. I’m curious what people think. It’s relatively easy to draw, add text labels, and edit things, but the text labels don’t scale when you zoom out, so it’s hard to see everything all at once.

Here’s a more conventional map of this improvement, drawn in my old friend AutoCAD. The regional rail lines are shown in tan, Pacific Surfliner in Amtrak blue. Where the routes overlap, blue is shown on top of tan. All other lines are subway, light rail, or BRT, as you like it.

regrail3

I’ve also thrown in proposals from some other posts (Westside transit, more Green Line stations) to give an idea of what this all looks likes together.

Scheduling

The rapid transit service would obviously run with low headways, so there’s not much to say there. The regional rail component is where it gets interesting. In Part 2, we’ll take a look at different options for the regional rail lines.

Metrolink Ridership Update – September 2014

Time for an update on Metrolink ridership, including FY15Q1 (July-September 2014) data. Here’s the breakdown of data by stations.

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Here’s the update of the rolling 12-month averages, broken down by line.

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Ridership continues to be on a troubling downward trend.

Here’s a look at the top 10 and bottom 10 stations for ridership gained (or lost) over the period from June 2010 to September 2014 (all based on rolling 12-month averages). The top 10 and bottom 10 stations are unchanged, except for Anaheim Canyon entering the top 10 and Fullerton dropping out, and Rancho Cucamonga entering the bottom 10 and Via Princessa dropping out. These are both bad changes, because Fullerton and Rancho Cucamonga are higher ridership stations than Anaheim Canyon and Via Princessa.

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Since June 2010, 43 of the 54 stations (excluding LA Union Station) have lost ridership, up from 42 of 54 at the last update. Fullerton has now gone from having an increase in ridership to a loss. 17 stations have lost more than 20% of their ridership in the last 4 years, up from 12 at the last update. With the exception of Pomona Downtown, every station that’s gained ridership is either in Orange County or on the 91/OC-IE Lines.

Metrolink Ridership Update – June 2014

Note: the graphs in the previous Metrolink ridership update post contained a data entry error on my part. The trends and conclusions are the same; however, please do not use or compare with that data.

I’m updating my look at Metrolink ridership every three months, as they update ridership data published on their website. Here’s the breakdown of data by stations.

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Here’s the update of the rolling 12-month averages, broken down by line.Ventura-20140901 AV-20140901 BG-20140901 SB-20140901 Riverside-20140901 91-20140901 OC-20140901 91OC-20140901 AC-20140901

These numbers are bad any way you look at it. The lines that had been performing decently well and even gaining ridership (Orange County, Orange County – Inland Empire, and 91 Lines) have slipped a little recently. The lines that were already struggling (Riverside, San Bernardino, Antelope Valley, and Ventura Lines) have gotten worse, if anything.

Here’s a look at the top 10 and bottom 10 stations for ridership gained (or lost) over the period from June 2010 to June 2014 (all based on rolling 12-month averages).

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Since June 2010, 42 of the 54 stations (excluding LA Union Station) have lost ridership. Twelve stations have lost more than 20% of their ridership in the last 4 years. With the exception of Pomona Downtown, every station that’s gained ridership is either in Orange County or on the 91/OC-IE Lines.

The drop in ridership is troubling, as is the seeming lack of concern about it. I haven’t seen it mentioned in the media. I don’t know the cause, though the steady stream of equipment failures and missed trains that you read about in the @MetrolinkDiary Twitter feed can’t be helping – the first step to running any transit service is to run reliably. If the region is going to invest more money in regional rail, we need to understand what’s going wrong, and how the service can be improved to better serve riders.

Metrolink Ridership Update – December 2013

Note: the graphs in this post are incorrect due a data entry error on my part. The trends and conclusions are the same; however, for accurate data, please use the June 2014 ridership update.

I’ve been trying, and struggling, to write a post about Metrolink for a while. I just couldn’t put anything together that I thought might add to the conversation. It finally dawned on me that I was putting the cart before the horse (and horses don’t run in push-pull operation). The first thing to do is just watch, listen, and learn about the existing state of affairs. So, here’s the first installment of looking at Metrolink ridership. Let’s see what’s going on.

Metrolink publishes quarterly ridership data, with the quarter ending in December 2013 being the most recently available data. The data is broken down by station, so we can see which stations generate the most ridership.

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The highest ridership stations are dominated by the OC Line, Riverside Line, and San Bernardino Line. As you’d expect, Glendale and Burbank make a good showing as well, though maybe not as good as you’d think considering how well Irvine and Tustin perform. What surprised me the most? Industry! Though in hindsight, a ride from the big honkin’ park-and-ride in Industry to Downtown LA, with only one stop in between, is probably not a bad deal compared to the 60. Oceanside also surprises to the high side.

At the other end, the Ventura Line and Antelope Valley Line perform poorly – perhaps shockingly poorly in the case of the stations in the Valley. Van Nuys doesn’t even hit 200 boardings, and Sun Valley not even 100. The Ventura County stations beyond Moorpark (Camarillo, Oxnard, and East Ventura) generate very low ridership that calls the benefit of those far-flung stations into question. The distant Orange County stations (Laguna Niguel, San Juan Capistrano, and San Clemente) similarly disappoint. Commerce is comically low, since there’s little parking and the surrounding area is thoroughly industrial.

The data available on Metrolink’s website stretches back to July 2009, which lets us construct a rolling 12-month average for all stations starting in June 2010. Here’s the time series data, broken down by line.

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There’s a disturbing downward trend on many of the lines, especially the Antelope Valley Line and San Bernardino Line. On the other hand: Tustin and Irvine!

Here’s a look at the top 10 and bottom 10 stations for ridership gained (or lost) over the period.

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Other than Downtown Pomona sneaking in at number 10, the top ten is all the Orange County Line and the 91 Line. And again: Tustin and Irvine! Who says Orange County can’t generate any transit ridership? (Note: I used absolute change rather than percentage change, since percentage favors the low ridership stations. If you used percentage, Orange would drop out, and Commerce – which picked up all of 8 riders – would be in.)

Now the bad news.

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No two ways about it, that’s ugly. Five stations have shed over 20% of their ridership, with three more not far behind.

The silver lining is that there’s a pattern to ridership changes. The Orange County Line and the 91 Line have been the big winners, and the San Bernardino Line and Antelope Valley Line have been the big losers. There should be an opportunity to figure out what’s going right down in OC, and what’s going wrong on the AV & SB Lines. It could be as simple as the fact that OC & Riverside are doing a little better economically than LA & SB. But it should be explored.

For one thing, there’s a bunch of new riders in Orange & Riverside Counties. Somebody ought to ask them what they were doing before and why they decided to take the train. On the flip side, there’s a bunch of people who used to ride the AV Line and SB Line, or board at Industry, but aren’t doing that anymore. Obviously, they’re a little harder to find than the folks who are on the train, but it’s worth trying to figure out why they stopped riding.

From there, we can start to think about how to capitalize on the momentum on the Orange County Line and 91 Line to keep increasing ridership. And we can try to figure out why three lines that serve the densely populated San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys aren’t serving people as well as they should, and what we might do to make those lines more useful.

What do you think? What trends do you see in the ridership, and what challenges and opportunities are there?