2012 Ridership visualized!

Riding is beautiful!

These maps show average weekday ridership numbers from fiscal year 2012 (that’s July 2011 through June 2012).

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The first bubble map shows where Metro Rail passengers are boarding trains that are headed into downtown Los Angeles, the county’s number one job center.

The second bubble map shows where passengers are exiting Metro Rail from those same trains headed downtown. As would be expected, most are traveling to a destination downtown. But not all of them! There also seems to be many people taking the Green Line to Norwalk, the Red Line to Hollywood and the Gold Line to East Los Angeles, home to both East Los Angeles College and the East L.A. Civic Center.

It’s interesting to see the most popular stations as people flow through:

•The Red Line has an impressive number of people that travel from the Valley to Hollywood and do not go all the way downtown.

•The Blue Line ridership is more evenly distributed over several stops than I would expect. Not everyone is traveling all the way to downtown Los Angeles from Long Beach.

•Gold Line passengers enter from farther out stations in Highland Park and Pasadena and the first few stations just outside of downtown do not collect as many passengers.

•Expo Line numbers were not available for the same time period because the line opened at the tail end of that fiscal year. It will be interesting to see how ridership patterns change as the system expands!

Do these patterns surprise you? Tell us what you think!

As a reference point, here are the average daily boardings (weekdays) at the line level for the same time period.

Fiscal Year 2012 (July 2011-June 2012) –Average Daily Boardings

Red Line  113,395

Purple Line  38,396

Green Line  43,402

Gold Line  41,078

Blue Line  82,212

Categories: Transportation News

26 replies

  1. Ron,

    I think that collecting data manually by hiring human bean counters riding the trains and jotting down who gets on where and how many gets off where on a notepad as this article writer states is much more costlier than having fare gates do the job automatically.

    Let’s say it costs 10 people to do this at a rate of $50,000 a year per person to do just this job. That costs $500,000 a year in taxes just to collect data manually with human bean counters. And it’ll be $500,000 year after year after year, perhaps needing to hire more bean counters as the system grows bigger – all for a simple, stupid and redundant job of just counting who gets on where and and who gets off where. It’s a total waste of tax dollars and makes no financial sense. And this doesn’t include vacation pay, sick pay, pensions, and benefits, per diem costs, etc. etc. And in addition to this, you need to hire the team of analysts to do make sense of all this.

    Versus, what’s the one time cost of just latching the gates on exit and turning on exit data record keeping, bare in mind we’ve already paid for the cost of installing the gates and latching them on entry? The cost benefit is a no brainer. You don’t need to be a Wall Street financier to figure this out. And it’s probably what other cities around the world are doing anyway.

  2. Ron,

    We don’t need/want to follow the rest of America. America sucks at public transit, why should we copy failures when all the successes are outside the US?

    Following everyone in the US leads us nowhere. It’s time we look outside of America for better examples on how to run transit.

  3. To all the people who argue fervently for tap-out: Transit systems do not implement a tap-out system for the purpose of collecting data. The reason for exit controls is to implement zone-based or distance-based pricing. Most big city systems in the United States have flat fares and no exit controls (New York City Subway, PATH, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami…). Four transit systems with exit controls were built for distance-based pricing (Washington Metro, BART, and PATCO between Philadelphia and New Jersey currently have distance-based pricing, while Baltimore had it originally but later switched to a flat rate). The only system I know of which implemented exit controls with a flat fee is Atlanta (and I’m not sure why they did it).

    Also, entry-exit tapping gives you a lot of data, but verifying and analyzing it is neither easy nor cheap. A well-designed sampling method is often more accurate than lots of indiscriminate data. Even with all entry and exit points under surveillance, there will still be a need to manually count samples in order to correct for errors in the data (malfunctioning readers, people jumping gates), and process the data for analysis. The cost savings over the current process may not be that great, especially if you count the extra equipment maintenance.

    So argue in favor of distance-based pricing if you wish, but be aware that the improved surveillance data is only an ancillary benefit, and it does come at a cost.

  4. Tap out is not realistic in our system. The light rail stations do not have faregates and 40 of them will never have them. Even the subway faregates are not fully operational yet. All this ranting and raving is kinda of silly given these facts.

  5. Peter H.,

    We’ve been through the fare gates we need it/we don’t need it argument many times. It doesn’t matter if it pencils out today. It matters going forward.

    The reality is LA’s population is growing, LA’s mass transit ridership is growing, and going forward, we need those gates than relying on mass deployment of officers everywhere trying to do random fare checks. That’s how London does it and that’s how Tokyo does it. This is how San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Boston, and every other mass transit oriented city around the world use them (except for the constant crybaby whiners who LOVE to point out Frankfurt and Berlin or Zagreb or Phoenix or whatever which have absolutely no credence or similarity to LA’s characteristics as a big city covering a wide area). If it doesn’t work, they won’t be using them. And you cannot say you know more than London or Tokyo when it comes to operating mass transit efficiently. You cannot deny that fact there’s a reason why they use it. Can you imagine trying to get around in a city where 90% of the population relies on mass transit and things weren’t automated? It’s chaos.

    Doing things by hand and by people are costly. Machines are able to do remedial and redundant tasks much more efficiently without worrying about overtime pay or sick leave.

    Besides, we’ve kept the broken honor system too long where too many people have taken advantage of the system by not paying. Random fare checks are just that: too random, and too costly. We need a gated system and it should’ve been done years ago. If mass transit oriented cities like London and Tokyo have no problem with them, we should do the same. In fact, we shouldn’t even be trying to reinvent the wheel. We suck at mass transit and we know it; might as well just copy everything that London and Tokyo does instead.

  6. Marie,

    I am a computer programmer and I can attest to what everyone is saying that introducing TAP out solves your problem with a simple computer logic coding.

    Say I get on at 7th/Metro. Under TAP in only, you don’t know if it’s the Red Line, Purple Line, Expo Line or Blue Line nor which direction I am going. I agree and I see your point here.

    Now introduce TAP out which records exits. Instantly, it introduces a huge amount of data that you guys can utilize for analysis. And all it takes is a simple computer programming.

    A person TAP in at 7th/Metro and TAP out at Culver City, by simple logic, used the westbound Expo Line. By simple logic, TAP out at Culver City station scratches out Red Line, Purple Line or the Blue Line off because the only station that serves both the TAP in point of 7th/Metro and TAP out point of Culver City is the Expo Line.

    A person TAP in at 7th/Metro and TAP out at Wilshire/Western, the person used the westbound Purple Line. Same thing as above, by simple logic TAP out Wilshire/Western from a TAP in at 7th/Metro scratches off the Red Line, Expo Line, and Blue Line off the picture. The only one that fits into the question “what line fits into a entry point of 7th/Metro to an exit point at Wilshire/Western” is the answer: “Purple Line.” Any computer programmer can write a logic script for this.

    All of this can be simply done via uploading data on which lines serve which stations and referencing TAP in entry and TAP out exit point data.

    I already can foresee what you want to rebuttal. But what about station-to-station rides that involve multiple lines like Union Station to 7th/Metro which can be either the Red or Purple Line? Or what about 7th/Metro to Pico which can be either the Expo or Blue Line?

    Again, simple computer logic, this time all you need is simple uploading of your existing Metro Rail timetables. If a TAP in is done at Union Station and TAP out is done at 7th/Metro then via station/line data, it narrows down to Red or Purple Lines. But once you record TAP in and TAP out time, you can further narrow it down to what the nearest departure and arrival times at Union Station and 7th/Metro. Obviously TAP in entry at Union Station and TAP out exit at 7th/Metro is only going to be westbound Red or Purple Line. Reference TAP in time and the closest departure time was a Red Line and reference TAP out time and the closest arrival was also a Red Line, then the person took a Red Line instead of a Purple Line.

    TAP out is done at Pico, then logically narrows down to either the Expo or Blue Line. It’s not going to be Red, Purple, or Gold and it will never will be. It’s either one of the two: Expo or Blue.

    The logic of this computer programming is simple: “I get on (TAP in) at Station A on YYYY-MM-DD-HH:MM:SS, and I get off (TAP out) at Station B YYYY-MM-DD-HH:MM:SS, what line in which direction did I take?” = Answer in computer logic is “TAP in Station A @ this time and TAP out Station B @ this time, then this line fits the tab most closest”

    If you reference TAP in/TAP out time with departure time of Blue and Expo lines at particular stations, you can filter down to which ever line comes closest to what best fits that data.

    All of this can be done by less than a day of a computer programmers’ work. And once it’s done, you can generate a huge variety of data to analyze daily forever instead of relying on costly manually intensive human counters.

    The majority data points are already there. You have the station names and which lines serve them in which direction and the timetables to figure out which lines come at which time. You already have TAP in going on upon entry as people go through the fare gates.

    Really, the only missing factor is TAP out data upon exit which can be easily introduced as we already have the fare gates that people have to go through today upon exit, just with no TAP out process.

    Once you do TAP out and start automatically collecting exit point data, you complete the empty piece of the puzzle that any computer programmer can do to build a logical mass transit data analysis system.

    I don’t find it hard to imagine that fellow computer programmers who work for mass transit in most cities that operate under a TAP in and TAP out system have such a data analysis system in place.

  7. The Green Line graph is not very helpful. It merely confirms that an eastbound train will have more people boarding at western stations (because there are more destinations ahead) than at eastern stations and will have more people exiting at eastern stations (because there are more stations from which they will come) than at western stations. For an eastbound train, no one should be boarding at the eastern-most station and no one should be exiting at the western-most station.

    To examine how many people are using the line to get to downtown and how many are using the line for other trips, graphing the Green Line data for trains heading towards the Blue Line would be more meaningful. Similarly, graphing the Gold Line data for trains heading towards Union Station would provide more insight into how many people use the line to get to downtown and how many use it for other trips.

  8. Marie,

    That is completely ridiculous and sounds to me that Metro just provided with sham excuse without ever thinking logically.

    Under a completely locked TAP-in and TAP-out system that is used in major mass transit oriented cities all over the world:

    When you TAP in, you are now within the system. There is no other way to get out of the system unless you TAP-out (other than jumping the gate which is illegal). Therefore, TAP out provides you with the exit data, along with logically and by process of elimination (all can be programmed easily), the direction of travel (TAP in point and TAP out point) and what train they boarded (via TAP in/TAP out time).

    The only truly accurate data is TAP in and TAP out. That’s why cities like London and Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, all cities with the best mass transit in the world uses them. Massive collection of ridership data via TAP in and TAP out while at the same time, offering the most fairest way of travel by distance based fares.

    Here’s an example:

    TAP user 123456 TAPs in at Wilshire/Western at 9:00AM and TAPs out at 7th/Metro at 9:30AM. TAP user 123456 logically then traveled eastbound on the Red Line.

    If you cannot deduce this, then let me explain to you:

    If TAP user 123456 TAP in at Wilshire/Western, it’s plainly obvious that the Red Line is the only Metro Rail that serves that station. By matter of elimination, TAP user 123456 used the Red Line. And if TAP user 123456 TAPs out at 7th/Metro 30 minutes later, again, by matter of elimination that user then obiviously and logically, travelled on the Red Line eastbound on the 9:00AM train and traveled from Wilshire/Western to 7th/Metro. Or what do you think this person did? Travelled eastbound on Red Line, purposely got off at Wilshire/Normandie, transfered to the eastbound Purple Line, to make it to 7th/Metro in a matter of 30 minutes? C’mon.

    TAP in records entry point and time of TAP in. TAP out records exit point and time of TAP out. Direction and heading is obvious by analyzing both TAP in entry point data and TAP out exit point data. What train used is obvious by TAP in entry time and TAP out exit time. This is true no matter what unless someone invents a “beam me up Scottie” transport device like Star Trek. People don’t magically disappear. People don’t jump off the train. You TAP into the system, you ride the train, you TAP out of the system. There are no magical disappearances of people within the system.

    TAP user 789ABC TAPs in at Wilshire/Western at 9:00AM, TAPs out at Hollywood/Highland 9:30AM

    TAP user 789ABC logically used the Red Line (eastbound), transferred to the Purple Line (northbound). This is the sole logical explanation that the traveler can do within 30 minutes without magically having Scotty beam him from Wilshire/Western to Hollywood/Highland in a matter of 30 minutes. Unless you can give me another rational common sense explanation.

    TAP user DEFGHI TAPs in at LAX/Aviation at 10:00AM, TAPs out at Long Beach Transit Mall Station at 11:00AM. Give me another explanation other than DEFGHI going eastbound on the Green Line, transfering at Willowbrook, to the southbound Blue Line.

    All you need is TAP out and you get everything. Why is this so hard to figure this out?

  9. Some more info from our data folks:

    “At this time, the only source we have of rail passenger mile data which is mandated for Federal reporting and funding, is sample data collected by checkers. [These are the folks who ride the trains and count, but they don’t count everyone, they make sample counts and then estimate from there.]

    This passenger mile data is collected by automatic passenger counters on buses (which by the way require a team of technicians to maintain and test and have hardware and software costs but provide more frequent and accurate data as a result). The next rail cars being purchased now will have an automatic passenger counting system.

    Rail TAP data is collected at boarding only, and when all gates are locked, it should be pretty accurate for counting boardings, but to calculate passenger miles, one needs to know loads on a particular train. That means we need to know what train they boarded (i.e. Red or Purple and direction of travel) and where they alighted. Metro’s TAP system will not be able to supply that.”

    As you can see, it’s more complex than just “labor is more expensive.” Hopefully these notes help clear things up!

    Marie Sullivan
    Transportation Planner I

  10. Isn’t there a number on the TAP card that could be use to tracked the person from where (s)he enters and exits?

  11. I agree. Gathering this data shouldn’t be this labor intensive at taxpayers’ expense.

    We already spent the money on installing and latching fare gates to prevent fare evasion, might as well put them to good use and let them do data collections as well.

    Who says fare gates should only be used to prevent fare evasion? If transit riders have to TAP in to gain entry into the system, why not do TAP out to exit the system and use the fare gates’ own entry/exit data instead?

    That’s way cheaper than using manual counts by hand or hiring people just to collect massive daily ridership data. Besides, we already have TAP-in going on and physically the fare gates are already installed. How much more does TAP-out going to cost? Probably way cheaper than the cost of hiring people to manually count who gets off where year after year.

  12. Ridiculous! Why is Metro still doing things like this manually!? How much is this costing tax payers?

    Manual labor cost too much. You can simply reduce your cost by doing TAP out at the gates for exits.

    That’s what the gates are supposed to do right? TAP in counts number of entries, then TAP out counts number of exits. Simple. You don’t need manual labor for this.

  13. Marie Sullivan,

    “Metro gathers rail ridership estimates from manual counts done by people riding the rail system who count people as the get on and off the trains. These counts are then used to estimate the riders using calculations to project total numbers based on their sampling.”

    Wouldn’t it be better if we just automate the whole thing using fare gates with TAP out?

    I mean come on, hired manual labor to do something like this is costing precious tax dollars. How many people per day is Metro using with our tax dollars to do just counting when a simple stand alone fare gate that does both TAP-in and TAP-out does the same job?

    I mean, if we’ve already spent the money on fare gates, wouldn’t it be cheaper to utilize them to do the same automated entry/exit data collection system via TAP-in and TAP out?

    We’re already have to TAP in to get into the stations anyway. How hard is it to do TAP out to get out of the stations? Then you have automated entry and exit data that the machines can do automatically daily.

  14. Metro, please provide this data, per line, per ridership statistics, based on how people use the system:

    As a sample, I’ve provided a data worksheet. Please fill in all the white spaces

    Simply put, I want to know over the course of the day

    How many people go from:
    7th/Metro to Pico
    7th/Metro to Grand
    7th/Metro to LB Transit Mall

    same to all the stations.

    That’s 22 x 22 – 22 = 462 data points on the Blue Line alone to gather to visually see with numbers which station-to-station rides are most popular per day and why other routes on said particular line are not doing so well.

    If we had a TAP out system, this data can be automatically generated everyday for analysis.

  15. Thanks, Marie! I assumed that “towards Downtown” meant “towards Norwalk” and “towards East LA” based on the data for Green and Gold lines.

    Makes much more sense now that this is confirmed.

    Would be great to see similar map showing the opposite directions for all the lines. Depending on when these counts were done, I’m sure there’s plenty of riders going the opposite way too.

  16. Thanks for all your interest and questions!
    @Paul C.

    To address the issue of how we get the data without TAP out:

    Metro gathers rail ridership estimates from manual counts done by people riding the rail system who count people as the get on and off the trains. These counts are then used to estimate the riders using calculations to project total numbers based on their sampling.

    And to address the towards downtown questions:

    The towards downtown and leaving downtown data is hard to name. We have estimates of people boarding and exiting in each direction (ie Northbound vs. Southbound). I used the direction that seemed headed to the most central location for these maps, but since the Green Line and the Gold line do not follow a towards downtown pattern per se, they are a little harder to place. For the Green Line, the “towards downtown” data is really eastbound, and the for the Gold Line it is more like southbound.

    And finally regarding the exclusion of the Orange Line:

    We do our BRT counts differently using the Automated Passenger Counters. So unfortunately we don’t have the same station-level estimates available to include.

    Hope that helps explain some things!

    Marie Sullivan
    Transportation Planner I

  17. This is interesting, but it seems possible to conclude too much about overall transit demand in the region from looking at what is only a small piece of the pie. A more comprehensive picture would have bus boardings, too. Boardings on the bus system are surely more distributed and reflect LA’s unique geography that transit planners shouldn’t ignore: LA is not New York or DC and a radial, spoke-type rail system isn’t necessarily the best way to meet LA’s transit needs. We have a grid system that needs better (and more) “bus boulevards” as Jarrett Walker calls them.

  18. I would love to see the Orange line added to this visual. I know it’s BRT vs rail, but I think it would be an important addition.

  19. I’m more interested to know how Metro even gathered exit data if we have no TAP out system. Did they use some sort of magical GPS device implanted into our TAP cards (wow, Metro invented cards with batteries that last forever!), or some certain magical satellite tracking system leased from the NSA?

    Furthermore, majority of our Metro Rail stations don’t even have fare gates so it’s not like there’s any solid proof of numbers to know how many people are REALLY getting on and off either at these unlocked stations either. You can’t collect data without locking up the entire system with fare gates to ensure everyone pays, and you can’t gather entry and exit data without a true TAP-in AND TAP-out system.

    What method did you guys use to gather this data? Did you spend our tax dollars in hiring people using clicker counters with a binocular or something? Because that’s the only way I can think of it being possible without a true locked system which operated under TAP-in and TAP-out.

  20. Interesting data that shows that LA is really a diverse city that not everyone goes to Downtown LA.

    But I agree, the data is incomplete and could be gathered more if we had a TAP in/TAP out data collection system which will allow us to show which “station-to-station trips” tend to be the most frequent and popular.

    That would be the most interest data because it’ll show how often do Metro Rail riders do:

    A long ride like 7th/Metro to Long Beach


    A short ride like 7th/Metro to MacArthur Park


    A long ride involving transfers like MacArthur Park-7th/Metro-Long Beach


    A short ride involving transfers like MacArthur Park-7th/Metro-Long Beach

    And if so, what are the underlying factors that makes certain station-to-station trips attractive over another? Value over distance (getting the most ride for as cheapest as possible)?

  21. Perhaps if we had a TAP out system, we can gather more detailed data depicting how transit riders uses the system and on average, how far they ride Metro Rail.

  22. Depending on what the purpose of this survey is, it might be worth remembering that many of the people getting on and off Downtown are Metrolink commuters.

  23. I’m a little bit confused about two points…

    1. How do you know where people leave the system?

    2. How do you define “towards downtown” for the trains that do not have a terminus in Downtown (Green and Gold).

    I ask because there are a ton of people supposedly leaving the train headed downtown in East LA, but for a train in East LA headed downtown, that would be the very beginning of the line… so those people would be exiting the train at the beginning of the line (or maybe the first stop, it’s hard to tell because the circle is so big). This doesn’t make much sense… unless “towards downtown” actually means all trains from Pasadena through Downtown to East LA for the Gold Line — is that how it’s defined?

    Similarly, a ton of passengers are leaving Green Line trains “towards downtown” in Norwalk… but this would be the beginning of the route, unless “towards Downtown” actually means from Redondo Beach towards Norwalk.