Results of Metro’s latest customer survey

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Above are the results from Metro’s semi-annual customer survey. Those who have followed this blog in the past will recognize many of the questions — and will also probably notice a few new ones.

A few things worth noting:

•In the previous survey from 2014, 22 percent of both bus and rail riders said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment “including, but not limited to, touching, exposure or inappropriate comments.” That generated a lot of publicity (as would be expected) and, as a result, the Metro and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department — which patrols our buses and trains — began a campaign this spring to try to reduce harassment. It’s probably too early to tell if that’s working, but the numbers on the new survey are slightly lower than in 2014 with 18 percent of bus riders and 21 percent of rail riders saying they have experienced some form of harassment in the past six months.

The new survey also focuses on the different types of harassment and one number that will likely get attention is that seven percent of bus riders and 10 percent of rail riders reporting that they had experienced “indecent exposure.” That number strikes me as high but it should also be understood that various riders may have various criteria for what they consider “indecent exposure.” In other words, that’s a number that includes those who may be underdressed. The LASD told our media department that they receive few reports about indencent exposure and/or flashing.

•This is the first time that the survey has differentiated between skateboards and bikes on the question about how riders got to the bus or train. It’s certainly interesting to see that two percent of bus riders and three percent of rail riders used a skateboard to reach the bus or train. That one doesn’t surprise me: unlike bikes, skateboards are very portable and easy to bring aboard a bus or train. And, like it or not, skateboarders don’t need bike lanes, as they can generally use the sidewalk.

•Twenty-nine percent of bus riders say they have used bike racks and 29 percent of rail riders say they have brought bikes aboard. To clarify, those numbers include those who regularly use bikes and transit together and those who may only use bikes occasionally or rarely to get to/from our buses and trains. Either way, still an impressively large number, IMO.

•In the July 2014 survey, 42 percent of rail riders and 30 percent of bus riders said they had a car available to them. In this survey, those numbers decreased significantly with 35 percent of rail riders and 18 percent of bus riders saying they had a car available. At the same time, the number of riders whose household income is below the poverty line has decreased slightly.

It’s probably worth noting that the numbers from July 2014 about car availability were higher than we’ve seen in the past — the numbers from the new survey are more in line with numbers from 2012 and 2013 (it was 20 percent for bus and 37 percent for rail in 2013 and 18 percent for bus and 37 percent for rail in spring 2012). The new numbers may very well suggest that fewer people see the need to have a car or they could suggest that among the mix of current Metro riders, transit dependency has risen — keep in mind that Metro ridership has dipped since early 2014.

What do you think of the survey? Questions? Leave a brief comment please and we’ll try to answer promptly.

28 replies

    • Yes, I agree that the active transportation data for 2015 is very promising. The full breakdown is as follows:

      How often do you use the bike racks on Metro buses?
      Very Often: 9%
      Occasionally:9%
      Rarely:11%
      Never:71%

      How often do you bring your bike on Metro rail? (rounding causes total “Yes” to be 29% rather than 30%)
      Very Often: 10%
      Occasionally:9%
      Rarely:11%
      Never:71%

      This information, and the full survey results, will available at http://www.metro.net/news/research/ under the “data center” tab by Friday or sooner. You can also view past survey results there.

      Matthew Kridler
      Metro Research & Development

  1. I love when these are posted. As I looked through the results and compared them to Spring ’14 I noticed many of the highlights that Steve mentioned. However, I also noticed that there are now six age distribution bins instead of five. I do remember thinking that a 23-49 years old bin was a HUGE range (which was what Spring ’14 used) so I’m glad to see that this was better split up to get a better idea of the age distributions of riders. What motivated Metro R&D to make this change, and how were the bins selected?

    It looks like the “Yes, I use the bus bike racks” and “Yes, I bring my bike on the train” responses are new (correct me if I’m wrong) so that’s neat. Do you think in later surveys there also may be a response for “I could not board the first bus with my bike because the bike rack was full”? It would be interesting to see what lines most frequently experience this issue and, accordingly, help develop solutions to mitigate the problem.

    Regarding income, it looks like annual incomes went down both on the bus (although by less than $1000) and the train (by more than $2000). I find this interesting because between Spring ’14 and Spring ’15, Metro increased fares. At the same time, however, Metro also heavily promoted low income rider assistance programs. Would the difference in annual incomes be in any way indicative of the success of promoting the low-income assistance plans, or am I just drawing connections where they shouldn’t be drawn?

    Thanks!

    • Yes, I have wanted to switch the age brackets for some time, but we would lose the ability to compare age to previous years. I think these brackets do a much better job of representing the different groups of people that use our system. They also provide us more flexibility with crosstabs going forward, so I decided to bite the bullet and make the switch (it is 2015, people, we should be using the Metric System by now).

      As for the reduced fare question, 31% of bus riders and 29% of rail riders are aware of Metro’s low-income “Rider Relief” program (more information can be found at: http://www.metro.net/projects/rider_relief/ ).

      However, 30% of bus riders & 31% of rail riders reported receiving a discounted fare, with only a small fraction of those being low-income discounts. The breakdown was at follows:

      Bus:
      Student (K-12):28%
      Student (College/Vocational): 16%
      Rider-Relief (Low-income coupon): 8%
      Senior/Disabled/Medicare: 39%
      No Answer: 10%

      Rail:
      Student (K-12): 20%
      Student (College/Vocational): 31%
      Rider-Relief (Low-income coupon): 9%
      Senior/Disabled/Medicare: 28%
      No Answer: 12%

      The difference between Bus & Rail regarding the K-12 and Senior/Disabled/Medicare VS. College/Vocational discounts seems to make sense, as there is a higher percentage of bus riders who are under 18 or over 65, while there is a higher percentage of rail riders in the 18-34 bracket.

      Matthew Kridler
      Metro Research & Development

  2. Why is the question “how far do you travel” isn’t asked in these customer surveys? Wouldn’t that be an important key factor in any talks for fare increases for Metro in the near future? Yes, yes, nothing is decided at this moment, which really means there’s going to be a fare hike anyway.

    Is there any reason why a transportation agency does not want to let the general public know with statistical results on how far their passengers generally ride the bus or train? I have to imagine transportation and travel distance goes hand in hand? Oh yes, privacy concerns. Except they’re okay when collecting data from Metro’s smartphone app.

    Don’t tell me you don’t have that data. Somehow, former Metro CEO Art Leahy was able to give out that data on public record that the average bus ride is 3-4 miles and that the average Metro Rail ride was 12 miles. So you must have some data internally within Metro with regards to this matter, otherwise, Art Leahy wouldn’t have mentioned it before the Metro Board.

    • Metro does have that data. They completed their most recent on-board transit survey in 2011. That would be the best source of information about origin-to-destination of transit trips. You’re correct that Metro won’t release the location data for privacy reasons, but they can certainly release summary data.

      • Leahy stated that this is based on interpolated TAP card data (i.e., taking where the person entered the system and where they next boarded) as the Metro survey does not collect origin destination data.

  3. My guess is that the 2014 auto availability data is an outlier. That happens.
    I’m anxious to see the results next year when they add some questions about Bike Share! Too bad they didn’t ask this time (e.g.: If Bike share was available, would you use it instead of transit? Would you use it for the first/last mile solution?), but most people here don’t know what Bike Share is yet.

    • I agree that it was most likely an outlier. We have not seen any auto data that high before, and were quite surprised by the jump in 2014. We will most likely be adding a bikeshare question to the Winter 2015 survey, and if not that one, definitely the Spring 2016 Survey (which is technically conducted in early summer, but after 13 years the name appears to have stuck).

      Matthew Kridler
      Metro Research & Development

  4. some really interesting tidbits here — the income levels, cell phone ownership, and the startling fact that as many as one in every 10 people might be exposed to an anonymous [particular male body part] while on transit. i would like to see more of a break down/more specific questions regarding bus stops (not just if they are clean, but if they have adequate facilities/shelter, overflowing trash cans, are used as shelters by the homeless, are overcrowded with too much furniture (like some of the stops with lean bars in Boyle Heights), etc.) because i honestly cannot buy that 70+ percent of the bus stops are clean enough for folks. most seem to be decorated with mysterious fluid trails. and the other main issue with the bus stops is lack of shade — very few have it, so people are often not waiting directly at the stop… they’ve taken shelter behind something else in the vicinity. and shade probably matters more to many folks… breaking down how often buses are late might be good, as well as trying to capture the difference in service between the rapid and regular bus lines, as well as any data specific to routes moving along bus-only lanes. lumping all those services in together might be clouding the bus service data up a bit? i would also be curious to know how long people spent riding transit to get to their destinations, particularly the bus riders…perhaps even how many times they transferred. yes, i realize that’s a lot.

    • Hey Sahra;

      Just so you know: that was me that had to perform a minor edit to your comment to remove a particular word that is a bit of a foreigner to this blog. I know, I know. My apologies and hope you understand — I just wanted to drop a note to let you know I tinkered with it.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • I am wondering, if there is enough of the right data available to: distinguish between exposure during public urination and ‘flashing’. Back in the day when I was a frequent bus rider, I did see one, but not the other. One maybe considered a problem created by lack of facilities, while the other is harassment.

      • @Just a person

        Good observation. The 3rd section of the sexual harassment question was asked as a yes or or no question, and was worded exactly how it is in the infographic. So unfortunately the survey cannot distinguish between the two, but as Steve stated, Metro Sheriffs’ data shows very little reported “flashing” (that is not to say incidents are reported all of/even most of the time).

        We feel there were a lot of confounding variables and varying definitions of “indecent exposure” that played into that result being as high as it was, but we will continue to combat harassment of all forms aboard our system.

  5. Being a New Yorker this transit survey is actually pretty cool to analyze. I do have two questions that need answers. (1) As Paul C. asked earlier, how long is the daily commute for Angelenos? Just as important is how many lines and/or modes does a Metro rider use to get to and from work and home? (2) What’s the percentage of riders that either take the bus only, rail only (light rail and/or subway) and both? The second question is crucial because the Bus Riders Union continues to suggest that Los Angeles is divided between the low income riders that only use the bus and the higher-earning people that ride the rails. The latter question is truly irrelevant in cities like Apple Grande (The Big Apple), Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and Chicago that have had major rail networks for about a century or more. [DC’s Metrorail has only been around for less than 40 years but is the second busiest rail system in the United States.] But in cities with newer rail lines and networks (LA, Denver, Houston, Dallas, even Portland, Oregon), it’s worth asking to determine if ridership is distributed equally regardless of race, religion, ethnicity and income.

    • A lot of great points Martin, I will do my best to address them.

      1. For transit riders? Or for LA County in general?
      For LA County, the mean travel time is 29.3 minutes (all modes)

      2. We used to ask about whether or not you have you have to transfer to complete this trip (Last time was Spring 2013) and coupled with the “how did you get to the first bus or train of this trip”, we can get a basic idea of what you are asking (which for 2013, shows that 59% of rail riders transferred, while only 50% of bus riders transferred). And when looking at the crosstabs between transferring and first/last mile mode, those that had to transfer are about 2% more likely to have driven or be dropped off at the station, while those who did not are about 2% more likely to have biked or skateboarded to the station.

      The best source of data for the exact information you want would be travel diary/operations data similar to what exporider described earlier (Specifically he referenced the origin-destination onboard transit survey of 2011). These surveys have smaller samples, but they are able to ask many more questions because they recruit a random sample of passengers onboard our system, and then the survey is conducted via an in-depth telephone survey (rather than needing to be filled out on the bus/train). As this data is internal, and was not conducted by my department, I would not feel comfortable posting it here. If you emailed customer relations, and asked them to put you in contact with someone who could answer “service planning and scheduling” & “operations” statistics questions, as well as referencing the origin-destination survey.

      As for your BRU question, statistically speaking there is a slight difference between the demographics of Metro bus and rail riders. As someone with a background in social justice who does a lot of Metro’s Title VI compliance studies, I take this topic quite seriously. Over the past decade, the differences between bus and rail demographics are as follows.

      Bus riders are 14% more likely to be of Latino origin (was only 10% difference for 2015)
      With rail riders being 2% more likely to be African American, 8% more likely to be White, and 3% more likely to be Asian/Pacific Islander
      In terms of income, bus riders have about 75% of the median income of rail riders, and are less likely to have a car available to make their trip.

      But a significant amount of the discrepancy in income and car availability can be attributed to the fact that bus riders are 150-200% more likely to be under 18 or over 65, and these are demographics that often have either fixed/no income, and may be unable to drive.

      The results for this survey and all previous years are available at http://www.metro.net/news/research/ under the “data center” tab.

      • The Census Bureau 2009-2013 American Community Survey (household) 5-year estimates for Los Angeles County, using chart S0802, has the average travel time to work using a car, truck or van–drove alone–as 27.8 minutes. Car, truck or van–carpooled–results are 31 minutes. Public transportation (excluding taxicab) results are 48.7 minutes–a whopping 75% more time than driving alone to work.

        These same five-year estimates have the average commute times for the city of Los Angeles as 29.2 minutes, San Francisco at 30.5 minutes, Chicago at 33.3 minutes and New York City at 39.2 minutes. New York City residents take on average one-third more time to commute to work compared to workers who reside in the city of Los Angeles.

        The longer average commute times for the cities of San Francisco, Chicago and New York City compared to the city of Los Angeles has to do with these cities having a much higher percentage of residents who commute using transit than residents in the city of Los Angeles, even though residents in the city of Los Angeles have longer commute distances than these other cities. The percentage of workers who commute using transit in the city of Los Angeles is 11.0%, San Francisco 32.6%, Chicago 6.7% and NYC 55.9%.

        From Hollywood north of the 10-freeway all the way to the beach is renowned for having the worst traffic congestion in the Los Angeles area. Yet the Census Bureau household survey results for residents living about half of a mile west of Vine St. all the way to the beach have on average some of the lowest commute times in the entire city of Los Angeles. The reasons for that are that this area uses transit less and the distance from home to work is shorter than most other areas. The San Fernando Valley also uses transit less than average in the city of Los Angeles and has on average much less congestion than Hollywood or the west side, yet the average commute times are higher. This is due to longer travel distances to work.

  6. This tells me that Metro needs to try different marketing methods (only 3.5 in 10 that have a car are using it). But those that ride it are quite satisfied.

  7. I agree, a breakdown of detail on how far people travel based on age group and income level should be made publicly available. You don’t have to give out personal details like John Doe living in 123 Any Street, Los Angeles, CA goes to 456 Another Blvd, Santa Monica, CA.

    If Art Leahy can say such information on public record that 80-85% of Metro riders are poor and they average only ride an average of 3-4 miles on the bus, then that does mean Metro must have some kind of data to back up that statement. Such a data will end all discussions whether or not the poor minority will be at a disadvantage here in LA if we decide to move to distance based fares or continue with flat rake fare increases.

    • Metro is government, they are your masters. They decide what data gets published and what shouldn’t and they don’t have to give out data just because the lowly peons ask them to, especially if it shows that it goes against what they want to do. Metro wants to advance a flat rate fare hike to $2.00 as their initial plan and expect commoners to agree to that plan without questioning. Now go be a good little obedient citizen, obey your masters and fork over your tax dollars like you’re supposed to.

      • See my comment to Martin Cruz earlier.

        “The best source of data for the exact information you want would be travel diary/operations data similar to what exporider described earlier (Specifically he referenced the origin-destination onboard transit survey of 2011). These surveys have smaller samples, but they are able to ask many more questions because they recruit a random sample of passengers onboard our system, and then the survey is conducted via an in-depth telephone survey (rather than needing to be filled out on the bus/train). As this data is internal, and was not conducted by my department, I would not feel comfortable posting it here. If you emailed customer relations, and asked them to put you in contact with someone who could answer “service planning and scheduling” & “operations” statistics questions, as well as referencing the origin-destination survey.” (pardon the poor grammar, the last sentence should have started with, “Your best bet would be to…”)

        The onboard customer satisfaction survey does not ask for rider’s home address and end address (as it already has the smallest margins possible, size 8 font, and needs to include many demographic questions for Title VI compliance issues). Even if there was room, paper surveys are quite poor for asking for addresses (or even cross streets for that manner), as free response questions rarely return data as reliable as multiple choice questions. I have seen the 3-4 mile comment from Art quoted quite a bit here, but I know it was not a part of this survey or our department, as we have never asked about start/end point for trips.

        Matthew Kridler
        Metro Research

  8. Again, as with past surveys, I have been unsuccessful in obtaining a completely readable copy of this latest Metro customer survey–trying to print it out using public computers at public library branches.
    Why?

    • Which do you mean

      A copy of the survey instrument? (email research@metro.net and I can provide that)

      A copy of each question and the results? (available at http://www.metro.net/news/research/ under the “data center” tab. Should load as a PDF and be easily printable unless the library computer blocks pdf downloads for some reason)

      A printout of the infographic? (this is an 8.5″ by 55+” and might be difficult to print from a library computer.

      Matthew Kridler
      Metro Research

  9. “The onboard customer satisfaction survey does not ask for rider’s home address and end address…Even if there was room, paper surveys are quite poor for asking for addresses (or even cross streets for that manner), as free response questions rarely return data as reliable as multiple choice questions. ”

    Is there any reason why you can’t have one single question that says this:

    Q: How far is your daily commute routine on Metro? (please fill in the blank below)
    A: ___________ miles
    (hint: Use Google Maps and enter your home and work address and you’ll get your distance)

    Or a simple multiple choice of:
    Q: Please pick one that best describes how far you ride between your home and work Metro everyday:

    [ ] 0-5 miles
    [ ] 6-10 miles
    [ ] 11-15 miles
    [ ] 16-20 miles
    [ ] 21+ miles or more
    (hint: Use Google Maps and enter your home and work address and you’ll get your distance)

    Or how about this question:

    Do you think paying $1.75 for the bus for shorter trips is too expensive to ride Metro?
    [ ] Yes
    [ ] No

    Would you ride Metro more often for shorter errands if shorter trips cost less?
    [ ] Yes
    [ ] No

    Q: How much would you be willing to pay for a trip for only one mile?
    A: ___________ per mile

    Any of these can be done without providing any personal information.

  10. They could also just ask where people usually get on, where they usually transfer (if applicable), and where people usually get off with app based surveys.

    Metro must indeed have a database somewhere of all the Metro bus and rail lines and all their stops/stations; without it the Metro Trip planner wouldn’t work.

    So, put it another way, if there is a database of all Metro bus and rail lines and all their stops/stations, likewise, people can just select their line number, their bus stops/rail stations from a simple filter and pull down menu for such a survey.

    With that, they can figure out how far one travels and can correlate that to the survey answers asking about age, sex, ethnicity and income level.

    But the one problem is that they’ll only be asking current Metro riders and may not be able to reach out to those who quit riding Metro altogether because they don’t see the value of paying $1.75 just to ride Metro for short trips. And if Metro decides to jack up fares to $2.00 or $3.00, more people may quit riding Metro, but when Metro does their surveys, they’re going to end up with a skewed result that “everything is fine” because the only people who respond to Metro surveys will be those who still see value in paying $X per ride for Y number of miles.