Numbers tell the story about Metro: riders seem pleased, but many have few travel options

At a meeting of Metro officials last week, an interesting discussion broke out about a customer survey the agency did earlier this year. Was it really true that just 68% of passengers on Metro buses and trains had a working cell phone with them? And just 37% overall had smart phones with internet access?

A lot of people at the meeting thought those numbers seemed low. After all, doesn’t it seem like virtually everyone is standing around and staring at their phones all the time?

I heard about the discussion later and was also intrigued — not just by the question about cell phone use, but the entire survey. I thought you might be interested, too, so the survey results are posted after the jump.

The numbers that jumped out at me: 69% of the more than 15,000 bus and rail passengers who responded to the survey lived in households making $26,000 or less each year, 70% were aged 23 to 64, 72% did NOT have a car available to them to make the trip on which they were surveyed,  71% said they rode Metro five or more days each week and 57% needed to transfer to complete their journey.

To put it another way, the numbers certainly suggest that in many ways Metro’s main task is providing a safety net service — Metro’s buses and trains are a way for those to get around who otherwise don’t have a means of travel. At the same time, the agency is trying to accomplish another task — pry people from their cars as a way to provide an alternative to traffic. The number of people riding Metro who did have a choice to drive has increased from 22% in 2002 to 28% in 2009, also suggesting the agency has had some success and that it has quite a ways to go to providing quick, comfortable transit that can compete with private vehicles.

On the service performance front, there was also some noteworthy results, with the majority of riders surveyed answering that they were satisfied with Metro service.

Metro does these surveys on an annual basis and, generally speaking, the trend over the past decade has been that riders seem to be more pleased with several aspects of Metro — i.e. on-time performance seems to be improving and riders say the agency meets their needs.

Of course, all surveys and polls have their limitations. Metro does its surveys by having workers board buses and trains. Their job is to try to convince as many riders as possible to fill out the brief survey (that’s done to avoid targeting those who may respond as the agency likes). In recent years, more than 50% of riders have responded to the surveys — a rate of capture high enough to avoid sample bias.

It’s important to note that the survey asks riders to rate the agency on either a scale or with yes-no answers. In other words, it wasn’t designed to capture every aspect of riders’ experience — good and bad — on the Metro system. Rather, the survey provides a snapshot of basic rider attitudes toward Metro.

Cosette Stark, Metro’s director of research, said the surveys are used by a variety of Metro departments to help determine how they’re doing. For example, this most recent survey specifically added questions about TAP cards to see if people knew about the fare card system. The demographic data, Stark said, is helpful when the agency has to consider service cuts and/or fare increases.

Take a look at the results and see what you think. Does the survey mirror your experiences with Metro? Or maybe not? Email your thoughts to

1. Generally speaking, I am satisfied with Metro 48% 37% 9% 6%
2. THIS bus/train is generally on time (within 5 mins) 38% 38% 15% 9%
3. THIS bus/train is generally clean 38% 39% 16% 8%
4. THIS bus’s/train’s stops are generally clean 33% 38% 19% 10%
5. THIS bus/train has adequate emergency info available 40% 42% 13% 6%
6. Is Metro Bus/Rail service better now than last year? 79% 21%
7. Do you normally have a seat for THIS trip? 84% 16%
8. Has THIS bus/train broken down in the last month? 23% 77%
9. Is graffiti usually a problem on THIS bus/train? 39% 61%
10. Do you have a working cell phone with you on this bus/train? 68% 32%
a. If yes, can you browse the internet? 55% (37%) 45% (31%)
11. Have you visited in the last six months? 42% 58%
12. Do you use Metro Bus/Rail primarily to commute to/form work? 80% 20%
13. Did you have a car available to make THIS trip? 28% 72%
14. Is it easy to find and purchase Metro passes? 80% 20%
15. Are you aware of the new re-loadable TAP card? 83% 17%
16. Did you use a TAP card for THIS trip? 53% 47%
17. Do you prefer using TAP card over paper passes and token fare types? 70% 30%
18. What fare did you use on the FIRST METRO BUS/TRAIN of this one-way trip? (Check only one)
Day Pass: 20% College Student Pass: 4%
Token: 7% Reg. Weekly Pass: 9% K-12 Student Pass: 6%
One-Way Cash: 25% EZ Transit Pass: 5% Trans. From Muni: 1%
Reg. Month Pass: 16% Senior/Disabled Pass: 7% Trans. From Metrolink.: 1%
19. How many days a week do you usually ride Metro?
5+ Days 3-4 Days 1-2 Days <1 Day First Time
71% 18% 7% 2% 1%
20. How many years have you been riding Metro?
Less than one 1-2 Years 3-4 Years 5+ Years
11% 17% 17% 55%
21. Do you have to transfer to complete THIS one-way trip? 57% 43%
a. If yes, are you connecting buses/train scheduled to come
within 15 minutes?

78%(45%) 22%(13%)
22. Are your household’s annual earnings more than $26,000?
31% 69%
23. You are:
Latino Black White Asian/Pac. Is. Amer. Indian Other
58% 19% 9% 9% 1% 4%
24. You are:
Male Female
49% 51%
25. You are:
Younger than 18 18-22 23-49 50-64 64 or older
9% 17% 52% 18% 5%

Survey Conducted Between June 3, 2009 – June 25, 2009
Total Number of Surveys Completed: 15,895
Total Number of Bus Surveys: 15,311
Total Number of Rail Surveys: 584

Total Number of English Language Surveys: 10,306 (65%)
Total Number of Spanish Language Surveys: 5,589 (35%)