>Metro’s best- and worst-performing bus lines (and how they decide)

>Metro produces a bus productivity report annually. As part of the report, Metro highlights the “Worst Performing” lines, ones that don’t meet the following criteria:

  1. At least 300 passengers per day
  2. At least 1.3 passengers per revenue mile
  3. At least 10 passengers per revenue trip
  4. Less than $4.80 subsidy per passenger
  5. At least 12.4% of costs paid by passengers

Hopefully once the tracking technology is fully functional, WMATA will include a 6th criterion, on-time performance.

So, which are the bus lines are identified as Metro’s “Worst Performing”?

One missed all five criteria:

24T: Heading up the pack by not meeting any of the categories is route 24T. This weekday rush-hour only service makes 11 round trips per day between the East Falls Church metro station and the Tyson’s Westpark Transit Station. It takes about 27 minutes to make the one-way journey of 8 miles. From the look of the schedule, two buses are dedicated to this route, at a subsidy cost of around $300,000 in 2007. Each of the trips averages less than 10 passengers, and fares only pay for 11.6% of service costs. With the exception of bus service along Westmoreland Street in Arlington and Fairfax counties, and Lewinsville Road in Fairfax, service along the route might be provided by other bus routes. Some of this alternate service is not really a good substitute, but for service between the transit station and the Metro, Fairfax County operates two bus lines, the 425 and the 427, from West Falls Church station. The alternate bus lines are shorter, more frequent, and operate along a limited-access highway so it’s a lot faster (9 minutes).

Missed four out of five:

98: Chairman Graham mentioned this one specifically at the parking hearing when the topic of transit to Adams Morgan came up. He’s also proposed replacing it with limited-stop circulator service, which would be faster and funded by the District instead of WMATA. This line is intended to shuttle folks from the Metro stations at U Street and Woodley Park to the hot night spots on U Street and Adams Morgan. It runs all day and late into the night (3am on Friday and Saturday), has a cheap 25 cent fare, and runs pretty frequently (every 10-13 minutes from 6am to midnight weekdays and Sunday, and all the Friday and Saturday hours too). I think this one is a transit rider’s dream in terms of service (cheap fares and frequent, regular service at all hours), but it doesn’t meet Metro’s effectiveness criteria at a subsidy cost of $730,000 per year and $6.80 per passenger. It failed all the criteria except #2 above, and got pretty close to meeting #1. It’s low fare probably is one of the reasons it has one of the lowest cost recovery of all, at 9.5%.

E6: I don’t know much about this line. It runs weekdays between Friendship Heights Metro and Rock Creek Park, serving the Knollwood Retirement Home. This one just barely met #1 above, but only had half the criteria’s passengers per trip, at 4.8. Each of those passengers costs a subsidy of almost $6.00, and fares pay for only 10.6% of costs.

Missed three out of five:

This category has too many for individual write-ups, so I’ll just list them:

  • 15K/L (missed 2, 4 and 5 above)
  • 20F/W/X (2, 4 and 5)
  • 17A/B/F/M (2, 3, and 4)
  • N8 (2, 4 and 5)
  • 18E/F (1, 2, and 4)
  • 3T (2, 4 and 5)
  • C7/9 (2, 4 and 5)

Now, I can’t discuss WMATA’s worst performing bus lines without discussing the best. So here are the “winners” in each of the five criteria (ignoring special school service lines that WMATA isn’t allowed to operate any more):

  • For passengers per day, it’s the 30/32/34/35/36 combination, at 15,500. This line had a big customer experience enhancement last year, including the addition of limited-stop “express” service, so I’m looking forward to getting new data to see how much better it’s gotten. This bus line grouping is the way WMATA reports the data. If the 70/71 and 79 were all combined, that one would be higher, at 16,830. The X1 and X3 are sister lines to the X2 but they don’t bring up the X2 enough to take the top spot here (total of 14,071). The 90s lines don’t really combine (96/97 don’t follow the same route as 90/92/93). For the rest of the categories, I’m just going to report the highest based on WMATA’s data since it would be hard for me to combine cost recoveries or passengers per revenue mile.
  • For passengers per revenue mile, it’s the X2 at 10.3. This radial line connects the Minnesota Avenue metro station with downtown along one of DC’s busiest main streets. The line is on the short list for being upgraded to streetcar service.
  • For passengers per trip, it’s the C2/4 at 66. This cross-suburb line connects Twinbrook, Wheaton, the University of Maryland, and the Greenbelt metro/MARC station. It’s a long line and it connects a lot of destinations to Metrorail, so it’s not a surprise this one has a lot of passengers per trip. It ranks among the top lines in other criteria, too.
  • For subsidy per passenger, it’s the X2 at 56 cents. Interestingly, even the best bus lines don’t operate at a profit.
  • For cost recovery, it’s the 11Y (an express route direct from Mt. Vernon to Farragut Square) at 56.3%. This line makes 6 morning northbound trips, and 6 evening southbound trips for a fare of $3.00. It’s followed closely in the category by the X2 again at 55.7%.

From this performance, it looks like replacing the X2 line with a streetcar is a really good idea. We’ve obviously found a route that a lot of people can use. Streetcars travel faster (due to higher torque electric motors), have lower operating costs for high ridership lines, and can carry more passengers per vehicle, reducing the number of vehicles and operators needed to serve customers. They just need a route that has high ridership to justify the fixed investment. I think that investment is justified.

The data is available by request until I can find someone to host it. Send an email to my profile address.


About perkinsms

I'm an engineer and father interested in transit, parking and economics.
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