What happens to ridership when rail is built? It goes up

One of the most persistent criticisms of Metro by critics in recent times is that the agency is spending too much money on building new rail lines and that rail lines do nothing to grow public transit ridership. In particular, some people and groups have complained that new rail lines have triggered the elimination or consolidation of certain bus lines.

Over the past few months, Metro Service Planner Scott Page — a 23-year veteran of the agency — combed through dozens of documents in order to better understand the impact of the opening of Metro Rail lines on the agency's ridership. Scott focused on bus lines that ran parallel to rail lines that were either completely discontinued or modified so that the bus line became a feeder line to the rail station.

His conclusion: ridership on Metro Rail lines is considerably higher than on the buses that previously served corridors where rail was built. This suggests that the idea that Metro Rail is harming ridership simply isn't true. If anything, the data suggests the opposite — that rail appeals to and serves a broader spectrum of the taxpaying public and that the rail lines have created an integrated system in which buses are still important and compliment the growing rail system.

Some background: Before the Blue Line opened in 1990, Metro's predecessor agencies only ran buses. Today, Metro operates 183 bus lines serving a 1,433-square-mile area with an average weekday ridership of nearly 1.1 million. Metro's five rail lines have a total of 87.7 miles of track and have an estimated 351,000 or so average weekday boardings.

Below please find a white sheet written by Scott as well as a spreadsheet with bus and rail ridership numbers.

Bus Rail Interface White Paper


Blue Line



Red Line


Green Line


Gold Line



48 thoughts on “What happens to ridership when rail is built? It goes up

  1. FYI, there is a serious push for light rail (Blue/Green/Gold style) along the route of the 405 to Van Nuys. That should benefit the SFV. Then extend north. :-)

  2. Nathanael,

    Correct. And the end result for NYC for resisting to that change is that they now have to deal with $2.25 fares with more fare increases on the horizon, without regard to how short or far people travel.

  3. The average ridership before and after the rail lines went into operation is completely taken out of context. Population growth is not taken into account. Retail price of gasoline has risen at least 300% for any of the dates used for data of pre rail lines.

    Rail lines will not inherently get you where you need to go faster than a bus line. An example would be comparing the time it would take to take a trip from point A to B between the two closest subway stops beneath a level above ground service and a bus line that has the approximate same starting, stopping points and service frequency while running on a uncongested street or transit way (BRT). Even though the subway can reach speeds upwards of 70 mph, this is more than mitigated by the time it takes to get in and out of the hole in the ground.

    In fact, it would be faster to ride a bicycle between these two closest subway stops, rather than take the subway train. I know this because I have measured the time differences between these two modes of transportation from the North Hollywood subway stop to the Universal subway stop. Plus, the bicycle can take you directly from your home to your final destination and vise versa, while riding the train in the subway cannot do this in the vast majority of the cases.

  4. Dennis,

    The same argument can be said with the bus versus a scooter or a moped. Why would anyone want to wait for the bus under the hot summer sun risking heat stroke when they can just hop onto their scooter and get going? The cost of operating these things are much cheaper than driving a car or even taking public transit due to its excellent gas mileage. Plus, they get around faster than any bicycle could. It is small enough to snake through to the front of the line at most traffic stops while the other cars and buses have to wait at the back of the line.

    Would you then say that LA is better off giving mopeds to everybody than spending millions each year on bus service?

  5. @Dennis
    If you seriously believe that “Rail lines will not inherently get you where you need to go faster than a bus line.” I urge to get on your bicycle(or bus) at the NOHO station and beat the redline to Union Station(yes you and the train must leave at the same time and follow the same path more or less). But your less than serious comment about this race “between these two closest subway stops” suggest that you are jesting with us because the standard of the two closest stops is not how the vast majority of people use this form of transit nor is it the way that these issues should be looked at. Since rail lines are inherently faster, your response appears to deflect from the real question of improving traffic.

  6. Dennis,

    “In fact, it would be faster to ride a bicycle between these two closest subway stops, rather than take the subway train”

    And how will a tourist or a business traveler visiting LA who stays at a hotel accomodation get a hold of a bicycle or know his/her way around the city using a bicycle? Last time I stayed at a hotel, they didn’t provide bikes as amenities like heating irons and hair dryers.

    The flaw with your logic is that it’s only “you.” People who use mass transit is not just “you.” It’s everyone from those that live here to those that come to LA as tourists or business. And while you maybe fine with a bicycle to get from one station to another faster because you already have one that you can keep in your apartment or garage, tourists and business persons do not have that luxury of having a bikes as amenities in their hotel rooms.

    Has the thought of “well how do other people use transit in other parts of the world, do they actually use it for one station stops?” Yes in fact they do. And they do so because they have much more logically minded fare structures: you can either walk 15-30 minutes to get there or pay like $0.80 under distance based fares (cheaper for shorter distances) and get there without walking. And no, people cannot sponstaneously conjure up a bicycle when they want to either.

  7. Yeah, wouldn’t it be cool if we could spontaneously conjure up a bicycle whenever we want to take a short trip within town? Wait a minute, don’t they have bike-share programs in Europe and a few cities in the U.S.? Didn’t Long Beach just sign a contract with a vendor to start a program there? Is Metro or Los Angeles (City or County) looking into a bike-share program?

  8. When I go visit Singapore, yes I do use their subways for one station stops. If you don’t know Singapore, it’s near the equator so it’s always hot and humid. I can risk getting a heat stroke and dehydration walking around town or get by cool and just as fast by using the SMRT.

    And the cost is cheap because it the fares are done by the distance instead of per ride. If it’s only one station away, I only pay for one station worth. If it’s three stations away, I only pay for three stations worth. It’s very easy; I just load up my EasyCard with cash, tap-in and tap-out. It appalls me why we can’t have something as logical as that here.

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