A little less than three months ago, LA’s Expo Light Rail line finally opened after years of delay. The launch wasn’t perfect, as there were many kinks being worked out, and travel times were slower than expected (train times are now matching their schedules).
While many were happy to celebrate the launch of a new travel option, some were quick to proclaim doom. If you recall, I wrote a couple of posts about how the Reason Foundation decided that Expo was a failure based on some random counts they made within days of the line opening. They then took those random counts, and decided that they were an accurate reflection of lifetime ridership on Expo.
In their own words…
The too-early-to-judge complaint is one you hear all the time about rail, but curiously never about cars, movies, burgers, condominiums, software, new fashion lines, tech gadgets, or pretty much any other product that is brought to market. For all the palaver about “soft launches,” “slow rollouts” and the like, your opening sales figure is almost always a good indicator of how you’re going to do over the Long Tail. That’s why they call it the “Long Tail” and not the “Long Trunk” or the “Long Opposable Thumb.”
Only two months of data are available, with June ridership being released today, but already it is clear that ridership is obviously increasing from launch.
May saw 11,317 average daily riders, which was indeed low, and actually does match up with what Reason counted.
Observed passenger rates indicate the Expo Line is carrying no more than 13,000 people a day. We have inflated our estimate by presuming that all trains, all day, are running at the observed peak ridership of 50 people.
But did ridership plateau on day one? Of course not.
June saw average daily ridership of 16,569 riders.
What changed? Well, the last two stations opened in the last week of the month, which of course generated ridership. That’s one thing the initial “doom” articles failed to highlight. It’s fair to say that with those stations being open for a full month, ridership would indeed be much higher.
And then there’s the whole bit about it taking time for people to adjust their commute patterns.
If you recall from my previous article, I pointed out how the Gold Line extension has seen growth every single month since opening. It’s been twenty months since opening, and yet the growth hasn’t slowed. This of course includes the continued poor economy and gas prices that have stagnated and decreased.
The Gold Line hit another new high of 47,025 in June, and will break that in July (the traditional annual high).
Of course, it’s natural to expect the same from Expo. July will show a full month of service with the terminus being open, and the added bonus of late night service, which will fully be appreciated in August. After that, September hits which means USC is open for fall business. On top of that, there’s the natural growth as new riders discover the line.
At this point, it’s impossible to guess where ridership will reach before Phase 2 opens in 5 or so years, but the Metro estimate of 27,000 riders by the end of year one does seem achievable. I’ll keep checking in with how ridership increases on this line and others in LA.