Ridership numbers: Expo Line’s first full month

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We’ve been getting a lot of requests for Expo Line ridership numbers since the extension from Culver City to Santa Monica opened on May 20. The gist of it: average weekday boardings increased from 29,047 in April to 45,876 in June, the first full month of service between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica. See the above chart.

There were similar gains on weekends, especially on Sundays — with the number of average estimated boardings each Sunday rising from 15,965 in April to 35,995 in June. Sunday is obviously a big beach day in Southern California — and we had a mini-heatwave one weekend last month.

As would be expected, the Expo numbers helped boost Metro Rail ridership in June — with the Blue Line, Red/Purple Line and Gold Line also seeing increases. Metro Rail’s estimated monthly ridership peaked at 372,320 estimated boardings in Oct. 2013. The rail ridership numbers:


The Blue Line is Metro’s busiest light rail line. Here are the Blue Line numbers, which have seemingly rebounded in recent months — although not as high as its peak of 93,201 average estimated weekday boardings in Nov. 2012:


As for the overall Metro system ridership, the news wasn’t as good:


As has been the case since early 2014, the bus numbers have been declining. This mirrors national trends over the past couple of years. In the first quarter of 2016, rail ridership was up slightly across the U.S. while bus ridership fell, according to the American Public Transportation Assn.

What’s happening?

No one knows for sure, but among the reasons floated are an improving U.S. economy (meaning more people have money to buy cars), the rise of ride hailing services such as Lyft and Uber, transit service cuts due to funding issues, undocumented workers getting driver’s licenses and perhaps cheaper gas. As for Metro’s bus service in recent times, it was at about 7.3 million annual revenue hours in 2004, dipped to about 6.8 million hours in 2011 and is targeted at about 7.02 million hours in 2016.

One theory I’ll float: with more people driving to more jobs, perhaps riding in a bus in more traffic is less desirable. As one bloke said to me this morning, “I’m car free but with ride-sharing, I’m definitely taking the bus less than I did in the past.” Feel free to comment on whether you think that theory holds water or is bound for the horse-hockey shed.


For those interested, this link offers plenty of ways to slice and dice Metro ridership estimates. Remember to hit the ‘submit’ button after setting your parameters.

49 replies

  1. I saw a comment to an LA TIMES story to the effect that Blue and Green lines were unsafe evenings due to crime.

        • The people riding the blue line late at night are evening shift folks. If you have trouble being around black folks then you will feel uncomfortable. I ride this line late at night returning from dodger ball games to get back to long beach never had an issue. If there are crimes its going to be ones of opportunity like snatching a phone from your hands did have that happen to me on the green line quite a few years ago

  2. Expo Line Phase II, the Gold Line (including Foothill extension) and the Purple Line extension are going to shift the overall average household income of Metro passengers upwards. On the last annual Metro survey bus riders had a lower average household income than rail passengers. Expo Line Phase II, the Gold Line (including Foothill extension) and Purple Line extension all mainly go through higher income areas than the average household income for rail passengers on the last Metro survey. With a increasing portion of the overall passengers coming from these three light-rail lines and a decrease in the number of bus riders who overall have a lower household income than the average rail passenger from the last Metro customer survey, this should shift the average household income for a Metro customer upwards on the next customer survey results.

    The fact that there was a large surge in the number of applicants for a drivers license after it became legal in this state for undocumented immigrants to get a drivers license has to be a indication that many bus dependent riders who could not obtain a drivers license are likely now choosing to drive instead of using transit. Evidence of this is that a large portion of the Orange Line ridership was lower income Latino workers coming down from the northeast section of the San Fernando Valley along Van Nuys Blvd to get to the Red Line station. Last month I road my bicycle along Chandler Blvd from the North Hollywood subway and along the Orange Line Path to Reseda Blvd and back during evening peak commute hours. Only one bus out of several that I saw seemed to have anyone standing in it and this included from the North Hollywood terminus for the Orange Line to Van Nuys Blvd. That’s a big change from two years ago when I would see lots of people standing in Orange Line buses even after 8 PM in the evening on a weekday from Van Nuys Blvd to the North Hollywood station.

  3. Not bad for Expo. It will be interesting to see how it does in July now that there are more 3 car trains. With the 2 car trains, it was often packed to the breaking point. Also, it will be interesting to see if the Gold Line gets any more bump from the 7 minute service and all trains going to Azuza.

    • My thoughts exactly! When Expo Phase 2 opened less than half of the peak period trains had two cars. From my observations, almost every peak train on Expo now has three cars, and most trains are full but not packed. I’m guessing that Expo ridership will reach 49-50,000 by September, when school’s back in session and after the new riders realize that they have more seats than before. I don’t expect that the service change on the Gold Line will have much of an impact on the ridership. The increased service to Azusa only helps ~20 percent of the riders on the Gold Line. On the other hand, the majority of riders, who travel between between LA and Pasadena, are getting less frequent service and more crowded trains. I expect the ridership change from these conflicting markets to balance each other.

  4. I ride both the bus and the Metro Expo line daily for my commute. There is a profound, visibly discernable difference in the type of riders you see between the two different modes. The difference is socio-economic: the metro rail attracts the white urban professionals who simply will not ride the bus. The Expo line is pulling in a class of riders who feel comfortable on rail.

  5. It’s frustrating to take the train and stop at intersections! I could do that in my car. Get priority for the trains (since we already cheaped out and didn’t elevate or submerge the expo line).

    • Its a jurisdiction issue, city of santa monica needs to do their part to prioritize the train on their light system. We have the same issue in long beach; LA sync system will not work on lb blvd so the city council asked metro to pay for upgrades to prioritize the train and metro denied their request. Since the train is not controled by the city of long beach traffic department, there is nothing we can do to give the train priority on our system.
      I am sure the sane situation exist fir SaMo and the expo line.

      • Hey Daniel —

        Thanks for the feedback. Do you a link to the request by LA City Council? Or any type of document? I’d like to read. Thanks!

        Steve Hymon
        Editor, The Source

          • And here’s the update from Metro staff: “This project is currently in design, with 65% design plans in review. Design is expected to be completed in October 2016. The City will Advertise for Construction around January 2017, with Construction to begin in April 2017.”

            Here’s the project description from the staff report:

            “This project is located in the City of Long Beach along the Metro Blue Line (MBL)
            alignment and Atlantic Bl. It will enhance 33 signalized intersections along the MBL
            route, one signalized railroad grade crossing, and 52 signalized intersections along
            Atlantic Bl with transit signal priority, ITS features, pedestrian improvements, and other
            signal system upgrades. A major component of this project is the upgrade of existing
            signalized intersections to adaptive traffic control. These improvements will improve
            travel times and headway schedules for both the Blue Line and fixed route transit
            services running along the Blue Line Corridor. Funds are requested for design and
            construction costs.
            Project sponsor will be required to participate in the Los Angeles County Regional ITS
            Architecture Consistency and the Signal Synchronization and Bus Speed Improvement

            Steve Hymon
            Editor, The Source

  6. Bus ridership likely affected by Uber/Lyft. I used to use the bus frequently for short haul trips to dinner/happy hour but now exclusively bike or use ride sharing services. I also increasingly use rail for longer haul trips now that the expo line comes all the way into SaMo where I live.

    • I believe Uber and Lyft charge about the same as taxis, so why would one take them instead of the bus?

  7. I think the rise of Uber and Lyft has made a big impact in ridership. I know I take the Metro busses a lot less because of Uber. I used to take the the 4/704 and the 20/7020 busses often, but now that it costs a lot less to leave my car at home and get to my destination faster, I usually just call an Uber.

  8. Back when I was a regular bus rider, the depressing part of it was not the riding of the bus, it was the waiting for the bus. One thing that much of the rail has is a better waiting experience, since you’re not just standing in the sun on a busy streetcorner. I don’t have the data, but, to me it feels like we wait longer for a bus than we used to, and that bus shelters are trashier than they used to be. Or maybe I’m a grumpy old man.

    • You’re not, I’m 23 and I feel the same way. The permanence of railway infrastructure definitely has a positive influence on ridership numbers in the long term.
      Trains > Busses.

  9. Regarding declining bus numbers: it is my impression that Metro suspects the declining bus ridership to result from drivers licenses for undocumented residents legislation (but does not publicly comment on that. For good reasons.)

    My take is that 1) Metro’s bus service is trash. Major roads receive infrequent service and buses are crowded. People aren’t “too good” for the bus in a classist sense. I believe that people who have relied on Metro’s bus services might relate to what I mean. 2) Metro has been lowering bus service hours –or keeping them stagnant– for years, over decades with double digit regional population growth. Ridership has lowered with the decreased capacity.

    It’s pretty obvious that Metro would like to become a hybrid of BART and the MTC in the Bay Area: that is: it seems Metro would like to be responsible for only rail service and funding. Cutting service is unethical because of the situations people find themselves in while waiting for service. Contracting bus service is unethical because of how it complicates the task of moving through our very segregated region. I’d like to be a bit more transparent and say that it’s no mystery why bus ridership is down. Let’s bring some ethics over efficiency into our decision making and stop turning people away from bus service. Oh man, I miss the days of the consent decree.

    • Hey Ryan;

      I actually added undocumented workers getting licenses to the list in the post. I know in the past that Metro has told media that could be a reason for ridership declines. It’s a tricky issue as there are no studies — at least that I’m aware of — that can show a definitive link between the two, but it does seem more than plausible. As for your other comments about bus service, thank you for taking the time to write an informed, succint and interesting critique.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  10. I have been avoiding the Expo Line for my commute between the 7th&Metro station on Figueroa and USC, taking the 910 Silver Line or 460 Disneyland bus instead — because the trains were far too crowded, especially on the northbound return trip. Seeing the comments here about more Expo Line trains now (finally) having an extra car during the peak travel hours has convinced me to give the Expo another chance.

    Meanwhile, however, when will the Gold Line trains start regularly having an extra car added? For weeks now, I have seen only 2-car trains on that line. Come on, if you now have the numbers to show that ridership on the Gold Line is up, isn’t it time to lengthen those trains, too, in order to accommodate the added passengers?

    • “Silence is golden” seems to be the Metro approach to questions about the Gold Line.

        • I will copy and paste from my comments posted 2 days ago:

          “Meanwhile, however, when will the Gold Line trains start regularly having an extra car added? For weeks now, I have seen only 2-car trains on that line. Come on, if you now have the numbers to show that ridership on the Gold Line is up, isn’t it time to lengthen those trains, too, in order to accommodate the added passengers?”

          • Funny that your question wasn’t answered this time either.

            I’ll take a stab at it as a ‘concerned citizen’/rail enthusiast or whatever.

            My understanding of it is that Metro is very short on trains right now, their fleet stretched unusually thin due to the surging ridership on all lines due to the many new residents served by the Gold and Expo extensions who are now frequent riders on all the lines.

            If I am not mistaken, measure R2 will include funding for the purchase of new train sets to meet this new demand, and for the further increases in ridership that are likely to result from the opening of the Crenshaw/LAX line and the purple line extension.

          • Hi Alexander:

            The initial order for new light rail cars is 78 vehicles (these are the ones being delivered now) plus an additional 157. Metro is also in early stages of a procurement for new subway cars. These are efforts independent of the ballot measure. That’s not to say that some ballot measure funds could potentially be used for new rail cars or state of good repair projects on them.

            Steve Hymon
            Editor, The Soure

        • For those keeping score, that’s twice now that I have gotten no reply to my question about extending the length of the Gold Line trains, which I posted in comments here on July 12 and again on July 14.

          • I only see one previous comment from you. The answer is: there have been some three-car trains on the Gold Line but the vast majority are two-car trains. I don’t know when more or all will be three cars. As we’ve said before, rail car availability remains an issue — the fleet is stretched thin with trains now running Azusa-to-East L.A. Gold Line every seven minutes during peak hours. I’ve been on a number of peak hour trains since the change took effect in late June. One of those trips was very crowded, the rest were normal rush hour crowds.

            Steve Hymon
            Editor, The Source

  11. Do you know if there’s any significant decline in ridership when the various colleges and universities let out for the summer? I’m sure you’ll see an increase in late August and early September. The Expo and Gold line extensions are close to several campuses, and now the ones along the pre-existing routes are accessible to students commuting from farther away.

    • Hi Pat;

      Generally speaking, there’s a dip in ridership during the summer and winter holidays because of folks not going to work or school. It will be interesting to see how the ridership estimate numbers look in September and October with schools resuming, summer vacations over and the Expo and Gold Line extensions now open.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  12. Metro shoot itself in the foot by creating routes that lowers the ridership. Case in point:

    Line 258 is always behind schedule due to traffic jam on the I-10. Metro can increase ridership and improve on time performance by avoiding the freeway and have the buses go through Cal State L.A. This will save fifteen minutes of travel time by the freeway traffic and the left-turn traffic signal delays.


    After the Cal State L.A. stop

    West on Circle Dr.

    North on State University Dr.

    East on Hellman

    North on Freemont

    Southbound uses the same route.

    Cal State Admin building, Student Union and the surrounding areas are major activity centers. Metro can’t increase ridership by driving on the freeway

    Does Metro want people to walk half an hour to a bus stop to catch the bus? I thought the combination of Lines 258 & 485 is to boost ridership not decrease ridership.

    • I actually went with Metro staff to investigate this several years ago and your proposed route doesn’t work. Larger 40 foot buses cannot turn from Circle Drive westbound to Campus Road northbound, and there is no left turns allowed at all from SB Campus to EB Circle due to the parking kiosk which was installed several years ago. The Alhambra ACT buses go through the parking structure from Alhambra to Cal State, which they can do because they are 30 foot buses.

  13. Here’s my take on it – due to the traffic congestion in the LA basin, traveling by train offers numerous benefits over traveling by car, since most of the metro rail network operates on private and underground right of way that is immune to traffic congestion on surface streets.

    This is reflected by the very nearly 100% on time arrival figure for metro trains. On the other hand, bus arrivals are much closer to 80% on time, which is more than likely due to traffic congestion at rush hours.

    So what should metro do? BUILD MORE RAIL 🙂

  14. It would be interesting to see if the bus lines paralleling the Expo Line extension are performing any differently from the rest of the system. I know some of those lines are Metro, some are Big Blue Bus. My suspicion is that, as would be normal, some former Westside bus riders switched over to the train. I’d look at whether the Westside lines had larger ridership declines than elsewhere on the system. The question is how much of a net increase has the Expo Line extension gotten after bus losses are netted out.

  15. Very exciting rail numbers for June and very promising for the future. Yet, just when things are looking up for rail, Metro goes and reduces night-time service meaning that unless you are only using rail to commute to your 9-5 job and then have a car at home, the system is not designed for you. We are possibly at a turning point in rail ridership in LA, yet we are reducing service and increasing headways? All to save a couple million dollars when you are asking voters for billions upon billions? We need to be increasing service and find a way to cut costs (if necessary) elsewhere–increased service is the key to this mode of transit actually becoming an integral part of the city.

  16. Some of Metro’s frequency ‘tuning’ may have a psychological effect. The 40 bus (critical for Hawthorne – Lawndale to DTLA) frequency was reduced from 30 minutes to 20 two years ago. Now you only see the bus at the same frequency as the 740 Rapid, which gives the impression of no more local service. Due to the timing it is much more difficult to use a combo.

  17. My major issue is frequency. On major streets with Rapid Service in the Valley, I’ve had to wait more than 15 minutes for any Metro bus to show. I know scheduling is tough and the routes service a bunch of places and connect with many routes but having a local and a rapid show up within seconds of each other is confusing. I wish they could be scheduled more in tandem with each other so you have more consistent headways. For example, if a Local and Rapid both run every 15 minutes midday then the ideal scheduling I hope has a bus showing up every 7.5 minutes.

  18. I was getting into for a year taking metro/ Expo and Metolink from my home in Glendale to my job at Sony in Culver City. When the extension opened to Santa Monica it was very crowded in the morning but after work (6pm-7) getting on at the Culver station is crazy. Standing room only. Im disappointed that I may have to start driving again (yes I have 2 cars) but the 40 min ride from Culver to 7th street every night standing is a bit much for me – and by the time we hit LA its more than standing room is people pushing to get in. Any chance of of more cars or do I turn in my monthly pass for my car keys?

    • Hi Theresa;

      More of the trains should be three-car trains during rush hour and that should help somewhat with the crowding. At some point, too, trains will run more frequently — but at this time, we don’t know when that is. Both train length and frequency is dependent on more of the new light rail vehicles being delivered and placed into service. It’s happening but obviously is taking some time.

      The train schedule has it being a 30-minute ride from Culver City to 7th/Metro, so hopefully most of your rides aren’t taking 40 minutes. If so, please let us know.

      I hope this information is helpful and thanks for riding!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source