Who is riding the Red Line?

In a tweet yesterday attempting to answer yours truly without actually directly doing so, diagnosis sick JMVC said:

Oh, really?
Here’s the original graphic from the first few months of service (click for larger shot):

Here’s the figures from a few months ago when service was expanded and boardings were up to 1700-2000 (even higher during the SXSW period). Click the image for the full shot. Ridership since SXSW has settled down back to around 1700 boardings/day, it looks like, so the most current subsidy (until the connector buses were cancelled) is likely somewhere in this range below.

Draw your own conclusions. Dramatically lower? Looks like about the same to me.

Well, population health we don’t know who, more about but we do know how many are getting on at each station. Thanks to Erica McKewen at Capital Metro for quickly supplying the following information (excerpted from a longer spreadsheet).

Morning boardings, AM peak:

Leander 154
Lakeline 211
Howard 154
Kramer 47
Crestview 26
Highland 12
MLK 8
Saltillo 3

Data from October 2011.

Analysis:

The stations where almost every passenger likely comes from the city of Austin are Kramer on down. Those stations account for (47+26+12+8+3 =) 97 boardings each morning.

The station where perhaps half the passengers come from the city of Leander (pays Cap Metro taxes, but not COA taxes – this is an important distinction for later in this post) accounts for 154 boardings each morning. So say 77 passengers here do not pay Capital Metro taxes.

The stations where most passengers likely come from places that are not the city of Austin and do not pay Capital Metro taxes are Lakeline and Howard, which account for (211+154 =) 365 boardings each morning. Say 10% of these boardings come from the city of Austin, and another 10% from other jursidictions that pay Cap Metro taxes (Leander, part of unincorporated county). This means 37 people from Austin, and 37 more that also pay Cap Metro taxes. If correct, 291 people that boarded here do not pay Cap Metro taxes.

(More on that last paragraph in another later post – suffice to say that rail stations on the edge of city limits are not going to attract most of their passengers from within that city as those people would be backtracking to board the train).

Combine those and you get a reasonable estimate that of the 615 AM peak boardings in October in this sample, about 368 are from places that do not pay any Capital Metro taxes and about 134 are from the city of Austin.

Put another way, 60% of the riders of MetroRail do not pay any taxes to support MetroRail, and 78% of the riders of MetroRail are from outside the city of Austin. If we assume the weekend ridership will be roughly the same as the in-week ridership (and this is a big assumption), these numbers would hold there too. More on that as details become more clear, but I think that even if the line terminates at Lakeline, the numbers would stay roughly the same, since some of the Leander riders would still ride, and far fewer of the people getting on in-town will (since weekend connecting bus service is far less likely).

In other words, if the city does what it is rumored to be doing and decides to pay for weekend MetroRail service, they’ll be paying 20 bucks a ride (collected from Austin taxpayers) to carry mostly non-Austinites downtown in the hopes of collecting a quarter (25 cents) or so of sales tax from each of them (that sales tax only being ‘extra’ if those people wouldn’t have driven downtown anyways – to say nothing of lost parking revenue if they would have paid to park).

11 Replies to “Who is riding the Red Line?”

  1. Does this assume that outbound ridership is negligible? I agree that MetroRail is a laughably inept charade of proper rail service, but for a few brief, blissful months last summer I was one of the lucky few whose hours and locations actually aligned with the train’s ultra-limited window of operation. I never did any empirical surveys, but anecdotally, I can report that peak-hour ridership from Downtown in the mornings and back again in the evenings was significant.

    Again, this doesn’t mean Austin isn’t in serious need of a far more coherent rail service, but it does however suggest your numbers might need a little tweaking.

  2. The October figures had these for northbound figures in the morning peak for boardings:

    DOWNTOWN STATION 32
    PLAZA SALTILLO STATION 14
    M L KING JR STATION 21
    HIGHLAND STATION 9
    CRESTVIEW STATION 9
    KRAMER STATION 3
    HOWARD STATION 2
    LAKELINE STATION 0
    LEANDER STATION 0

    1. The idea just struck me: Austin should build a sustainable inner-city light rail system that helps contain congestion, sprawl, and all the other inefficient excesses of 21st century car culture. Who’s with me?

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