Tag: ridership

Comparing Brightline and Amtrak Ridership

The Brightline rail line in Florida has been an exciting rail project that I surprisingly have never posted about. It is a passenger rail line that operates between Miami and West Palm Beach, with plans to expand to Orlando and Tampa. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, you might know it by its original name – All Aboard Florida – or the company that built it – Florida East Coast Railway. To make it more confusing, they recently received an investment from Richard Branson and will be rebranding as Virgin Trains USA.

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Brightline train yard. Wikipedia.

What makes the line so interesting is that it is the first real private rail line to operate in the US in decades. Ok, there are some private trains that do leisure trips around a canyon at 20mph, but this rail line is designed for actual travel. Click to read more!

A Look at Amtrak California Ridership – June 2019

Has it really been over two years since I last looked at ridership on the Amtrak California routes? That’s a surprise! Here are the other posts I made taking a look at ridership and trends:

There’s a good reason for this delay. Amtrak has made the ridership numbers a lot less transparent. Instead of reporting the riders per route in an easy table, they are now reporting “year to date.” So to know the ridership in March, you need to know the ridership for the previous month, and subtract the difference. Easy enough…if those reports were on their website. Nope, they only keep the last three online. I’ve done my best to find all the reports using google and the Internet Archive, but unfortunately, I cannot find March to August 2017. On top of that, the numbers are now rounded. They also changed how they report revenue. Click to read more!

Fresno added bus service, and riders appear to be responding

In February of this year, Fresno finally launched the “Q,” a new express bus line with increased peak service along the two busies transit corridors in the city. In addition, the system expanded service hours past 9pm and added live bus arrival times. While it is way too early to make any definitive statements about how Q has impacted FAX (Fresno Area Express), the early data looks promising. We now have data showing three full months under the new service plan, and the initial results are good.

First a reminder. Here is what Fresno bus ridership looked like for ten years, from July 2008 to October 2017. Pretty scary. You can read my full analysis here.

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Now let us zoom in to the last 2 years. I have highlighted April and May of 2016, 2017, and 2018 to make an easier year-over-year comparison.

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Since the status quo was a continuous decline, even stopping that decrease would be a positive. Instead, the system has done better and shows ridership ticking up a notch compared to previous years.

This next chart shows ridership plotted against Vehicle Revenue Hours (VRH) since 2005. The higher the VRH, the more time the buses are spending on the road serving customers. You can see that began to increase in 2017 when FAX introduced later hours and increased service on Shaw Avenue in advance of the Q rollout.

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This next graph shows ridership plotted against the maximum number of buses FAX runs at a given time (rush hour peak). I like it because it helps highlight how stagnant the system was for so many years. Once again, you can see when the initial FAX-15 rolled out on Shaw and Blackstone in advance of the Q service. This one also helps to show that even with this expansion, FAX used to operate more peak service in the past. Essentially, they cut 3 routes and re-allocated the money to run those buses on other lines during other times of the day, which is why the previous graph does not show a marked decrease.

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Of course, I look forward to seeing this data again once we have a few more months to look at. People do not respond immediately to transit improvements. If you bought a car because FAX service wasn’t getting you to work, it is hard to come back, for example. However, as people move and start new jobs, they might take a new look at FAX and realize that the improvements help get them to where they’re going, and at least for the near future, these improvements in service are guaranteed by federal funds.

One question that will surely be brought up: What about gas prices? They have indeed been rising. However, that increase hasn’t yet resulted in improved ridership in the peer cities I track. Modesto and Visalia are pretty flat, and Bakersfield is hard to compare with because they started counting their ridership in a new way in 2017. Across the country, I continue to read stories about how transit ridership is still falling as well.

In conclusion, congratulations FAX, you have discovered that people like better service!

12 years of FAX ridership – the decline in riders (and service) is real

With the recent launch of the new “Q” bus service in Fresno, many articles have been asking if this will stop the decline in bus ridership. However, I have yet to see any article actually talk about numbers. What has the decline been? How long has it been happening? Well, let’s solve that mystery and dive right in!

I last looked at ridership in July 2015. That post was titled “7 years of decline.” Unfortunately, it hasn’t gotten better.

We begin with the big picture: Ridership by month on Fresno’s bus system, FAX, from July 2005 to December 2017. These numbers are for regular buses only, not including para-transit. Clovis, which operates its own system, is also not included.

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Peak month is not a surprise. Ridership peaked in October 2008 with 1,390,745 bus rides.

That makes a lot of sense: the housing market was crashing, there was major turmoil in Wall Street, unemployment was on its way up (11.1% in October, on its way to 15.4% in February), and gas prices were skyrocketing ($4.64 a gallon in July 2008). People were desperate to save money, and riding the bus was a way to do so. This was true around the country. Additionally, FAX had recently implemented 15-minute service on major lines, thanks to a federal grant.

And then things started heading south. Even though people needed the bus, the city was slashing services left and right because they were broke. They eliminated the highway express routes, decreased service frequency, and eliminated routes 4, 12, 18, and 56. On top of that, they hiked fares.

As the economy started to very, very slowly pick up, ridership continued to fall.

Ridership fell to 803,866 in July 2011, an astonishing decrease of 42% from peak. (Unemployment was 16.2% in Fresno that month)

This past July, unemployment reached 8.6%, similar to the “good old days” of 2006.

FAX ridership July 2017: 570,395. A decline of 59% since the peak. October 2017, the annual high point, was 866,634, below even 2005/

I had no idea it had gotten this bad. Here is what almost 10 years of decline looks like:

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Incidentally, Fresno population in 2008 was 472,949, which increased to 522,053 for 2016.

These next charts show how Fresno cut service. The first is ridership compared with Vehicle Revenue Miles, or distances the buses travel when picking up customers. A smaller number means less buses and/or less routes. The cuts in 1010 are very clear.

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This one is similar, but with Vehicle Hours Traveled, compared with ridership. Same idea, less service, less hours the buses are rolling.

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Neither measure is perfect. For example, if FAX were to send a single bus on a route to San Francisco every day, and it carried one person, the charts would show a huge increase in service hours and miles, but that wouldn’t really be an improvement.

However, it is useful data. You can clearly see the cuts in service Recently, you can see an increase in 2017. This is because the Q route was supposed to be open by 2017, so Fresno started using some of the operating grants to increase service.

Passengers on two of the busiest Fresno transit routes to and from Fresno State will start seeing more frequent weekday bus service starting Monday, just a week before the start of spring-semester classes at the university.

FAX15 is the brand for the city’s new service, on which new buses will run every 15 minutes on portions of Shaw and Cedar avenues from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. FAX stands for Fresno Area Express, the city’s public bus system.

More buses will mean that passengers on the prime sections of two routes won’t have to wait more than 15 minutes for the next bus to come along.

On FAX’s north-south Route 38 along Cedar Avenue, the FAX 15 buses will run between Jensen Avenue and Shaw Avenue, said Brian Marshall, the city’s transportation director. Click to read more!

A look at Amtrak California ridership – February 2017

With the news that the San Joaquin line is looking to get a new 8th daily train next year, I felt it was time to take a new look at Amtrak California ridership. This post looks at the most recent Amtrak report, which covers February 2017. Here are some older posts:

Since we last checked in, the San Joaquin received a new 7th daily train. Unfortunately, the addition of a new train has not resulted in higher ridership. In fact, it has gone down a tad.

The entire Amtrak system was down around 3%, compared to last February, which makes sense when you consider that February 2016 had one more day (leap year). Maybe doing these in February wasn’t the best idea, woops.

However, the San Joaquin line had the biggest drop in the entire system, 5.7% less than last year, and 10.8% less than projected. Stable ridership would be disappointing with the new frequency, but a decline is worrying. What’s going on? Unfortunately, it seems like reliability has taken a huge slide. The San Joaquin Rail Commission blames the wet winter, which created delays. Regardless of who’s to blame, the riders aren’t having it.

The San Joaquin was on time only 61.4% of the time in February (lowest since May 2014), and 71.2% in January. 

The San Joaquin was showing stable growth over a period of years, and was catching up to the Capitol Corridor.  However, the Capitol Corridor started recovering, while the San Joaquin has entered a slump. The Pacific Surfliner, on the other hand, keeps on growing. This past July it was just shy of hitting 300,000 riders in a single month.

Aside from delays, it is possible the new 7th daily train wasn’t scheduled at a time that customers would have liked. The Commission should look into shifting the times based on passenger feedback.

Onto the charts!

We begin with a chart showing all three California lines over the past 15 months. That allows us to see seasonal changes over the course of the year, and get a brief reference of year-on-year progress. Ridership is always highest during the summer.

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Now we look as far back as I have data – from October 2008 until February 2017. The Pacific Surfliner especially has huge shifts from winter to summer – maybe international tourists?

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And here are individual lines, showing the previous 5 years. The highest ridership month, July, is highlighted.

San Joaquin:

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Capitol Corridor:

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Pacific Surfliner:

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Finally, how these lines compare with other Amtrak lines (no changes in ranking from last year):

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I will try and do another one of these showing ridership as of July (so a post in September or October) to see how the San Joaquin did after a full year of 7 daily trains. July is also fun since it tends to be the highest, so we can see if the Pacific Surfliner breaks 300,000. 

A look at Amtrak California ridership – February 2016

The recent news that the Amtrak San Joaquin line is getting a 7th daily train inspired me to ask, how is ridership doing? Long-time readers might remember that Amtrak ridership updates used to be a frequent (quarterly) feature on this blog, but the last one I did was in December…of 2012! Oops. Well, I’ve updated my spreadsheets, so let’s take a look at how ridership has been doing on California’s three state-supported Amtrak lines.

We begin with a chart showing all three California lines over the past 15 months. That allows us to see seasonal changes over the course of the year, and get a brief reference of year-on-year progress.

One thing popped out at me immediately.  See July 2015? See how close the San Joaquin is to the Capitol Corridor line? Turns out, that month, the San Joaquin had 90% as many riders as the Capitol Corridor. That’s huge. For reference, in July of 2009, the ratio was 66%, and in 2010, 63%. I did some additional digging and it looks like the highest it has ever been was July 2015, when the ratio was 94%.

This is even more impressive, because while the San Joaquin has been fighting for a 7th daily train, the Capitol Corridor line gets 15 round trips a day.

That indicates to me, that with the new train, the San Joaquin might surpass the Capitol Corridor in ridership for the first time ever – with half as many trains, and operating some hand-me-downs.

It’ll be hard to keep giving the San Joaquin 3rd tier status when ridership starts to exceed what has been a model corridor. As the new service starts in June, the July numbers will be very interesting indeed. I’ll report them when they get released in late September.

Viewing all three lines over 7 years shows how they’ve all grown and changed over time.

Now we see that the San Joaquin is showing the fastest growth, but the Pacific Surfliner is very healthy. Capitol Corridor is not doing so amazing. However, part of that reason was a change in accounting. In September of 2013, Amtrak changed how they calculated ridership from sales of 10-ticket packs. According to their reports.

In FY14, Amtrak began counting actual lifted ridership for multi-ride tickets (due to eTicketing), rather than the estimated multi-ride ridership used previously.

This impacted the Capitol Corridor line more than any other in the country, because so many riders are commuters. This change didn’t impact revenue at all however. What appears to have happened was that commuters were buying 10-packs, Amtrak was assuming they were riding – but they didn’t. Either they lost their tickets, or kept them in a drawer, or they expired. So Amtrak gets the money, but the seat went empty.

So in October 2012, ridership was reported as 150,461, and in 2013 for October, just 125,807. That’s a lot of expired tickets!

Here we can see each line, individually, from 2011 to now. July of each year has been highlighted as it tends to be the month with highest ridership.

San Joaquin:

Capitol Corridor

Pacific Surfliner

How does this compare nationally? Here are the top ten lines around the country for January and February of this year – the latest data available.

 
The order hasn’t moved much since 2012. One service that saw significant declined was DC-Newport News, but I believe that’s because Virginia added trains to other destination, so the ridership is now split between 3 lines instead of one.

What jumps out as always is that California makes a lot of sense for High Speed Rail. Always assumed to have low rail ridership by East-Coast media, train ridership in California is always strong. 

I hope to do these updates a little more often again, especially to see if the added service draws more riders thanks to a more convenient schedule.

One year after opening, Expo line ridership meeting projections for 2020

A bit over a year ago, the city of Los Angeles welcomed its newest (and long delayed) light rail line, called the Expo Line. Taking riders between downtown LA and Culver City (and eventually Santa Monica), the line had been greatly anticipated to fill a large gap in the metro system. For one, the line would have three stops serving USC, which includes a stop at the famous and frequently used LA Coliseum. =&0=&

Amtrak California Ridership Update

Nothing quite says Christmas like fresh graphs and Amtrak ridership stats. Since I haven’t done one of these Amtrak California ridership updates since August, I figured we were well overdue in taking a look at the most recent trends. In my last update, we had ridership stats up to May, today I have until September.

The San Joaquin continues to be the line showing the greatest gains in ridership. The Capitol Corridor and Pacific Surfliner are not showing much growth, as they are pretty stable compared to last years numbers (up a bit, then down a bit). Next year should continue to show growth on all lines as the economy improves, resulting in more people moving about. Megabus has started service between Sf and Sacramento which may impact Amtrak ridership in that corridor.

How much has the San Joaquin grown?

In June of 2011, the San Joaquin exceeded 100k riders in one month for the first time ever. It exceeded that again in July.

This year, the San Joaquin took over 100k passengers for FIVE months in a row; April-August. 

On the other end, the lowest ridership month was January, with 83,053. Meanwhile, in 2009, 6 months had ridership below 80k, with three months in the 60’s. Pretty big leaps in ridership numbers.

Ridership on all three lines, October 2008 – September 2012. All three lines show upwards growth, although the San Joaquin is growing fastest.
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All three lines, past 15 months
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San Joaquin, an easier way to visualize year on year increases
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San Joaquin, past 13 months
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Capitol Corridor, past 13 months
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Pacific Surfliner, past 13 months
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How the California lines compare nationally for July
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How the California lines compare nationally for September. The Downeastern recently got extended, and just missed the cut. Expect it to show up in the top 10 ranking soon enough. Important to note that positions 8-12 are quite competitive.
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 Enjoy your holidays!