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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Rail ridership continues banner growth, record pace


On Oct. 3, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) recorded its all-time, single-day record ridership. But the record lasted only one day.

BART logged 366,800 trips the day of the Oakland A’s/New York Yankees playoff game at the Oakland Coliseum, beating 357,000 trips recorded in 1989 when the Loma Prieta Earthquake toppled the Bay Bridge and BART was the only means across the bay.

But on Oct. 4, the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants were hosting the bi-coastal Major League Baseball playoffs; leading to 375,000 BART passenger trips — 8,200 more than the day-old record.

East Coast transit agencies, too, are recording record ridership. Virginia Railway Express (VRE) Oct. 3 logged 10,030 trips — the first time VRE broke 10,000 trips in a single non-event day in its eight-year history.

"It is apparent that many of our new riders have come to VRE because of … construction and the new Metrochek benefits," said Fairfax County Supervisor and VRE Operations Board Member Sharon Bulova in a prepared statement. "The VRE has been very successful at relieving automobile traffic and its current level of growth points to even more success in the future."

The general trend toward increasing ridership also is evident in American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Second Quarter 2000 Transit Ridership Report. VRE’s January-to-June ridership increased 18.7 percent in 2000 over the same period in 1999.

Overall, reporting heavy rail systems increased January-to-June 2000 ridership 10.80 percent; light rail, 5.75 percent; and commuter rail, 4.91 percent over the same period in 1999.

Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority led heavy-rail gains posting a 69.79 percent increase in the second quarter; 68.30 percent, year-to-date. However, MTA’s ridership numbers will be strongly affected in the third and fourth quarters due to a transit strike that began Sept. 16.

Other heavy-rail winners include Port Authority of New York & New Jersey with 9.32 percent growth, and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which logged most of its top 25 ridership days this year and saw year-to-date ridership grow 8 percent. And New York City Transit ridership increased from 7.97 million trips January-to-June 1999 to 8.61 million trips for year-to-date 2000 — an 8.01 percent increase.

Some strong light-rail increases were offset by several ridership decreases; of the 17 reporting agencies with more than one year’s history available for comparison, seven recorded ridership decreases.

On the increase side, San Diego Trolley’s six-month 2000 ridership total of 14.7 million trips increased 25.25 percent, surpassing Los Angeles MTA’s 13.3 million trips despite its own 13.19 percent increase. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority logged the strongest light-rail gains with a 29.63 percent increase, driving the system’s six-month ridership from 3.4 million in 1999 to 4.4 million in 2000.

Portland’s Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (Tri-Met) also is riding the wave of ridership increases, due in part to the opening of Westside MAX in September 1998. Tri-Met posted a 9.15 percent increase for first-half 2000 over the same period in 1999. Meanwhile, Memphis Area Transit Authority’s trolley ridership increased 12.12 percent.

Systems on both coasts are leading the commuter-rail ridership-increase parade. Two-year-old Altamont Commuter Express, San Jose, Calif., ridership increased 61.02 percent. Also in California, Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers District’s Caltrain ridership rose 19.36 percent and Southern California Regional Rail Authority’s Metrolink increased 14.28 percent.

On the East Coast, Connecticut Department of Transportation’s Shore Line East Commuter Rail ridership rose 9.62 percent, from 132,000 trips January-to-June 1999 to 144,700 trips for the same period this year. And some of the largest East Coast commuter rail systems posted significant ridership gains including: New Jersey Transit Corp. at 6.78 percent; New York’s Metro-North Railroad 5.48 percent; Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, 4.79 percent; and New York’s Long Island Rail Road, 4.58 percent.

Representing the Midwest with the second-highest January-to-June commuter rail ridership, Chicago’s Metra increased ridership 2.51 percent. June 2000 was Metra’s 43rd consecutive month of ridership growth.

And Dallas Area Rapid Transit, currently with fourth-smallest commuter-rail ridership of the 17 reporting agencies, also is on the growth-track registering a 9.55 percent increase.

With rail ridership increasing nationwide — and showing no signs of slowing — the questions transit execs may be asking are: "How can we accommodate still more passengers?" and "What can we expect in 2001?"

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/6/2000