At last week’s meeting, the METRO board adopted a new five year ridership plan. Metro’s goal: to increase ridership by 5% every year for the next five. Metro also noted that even with a "restructured" fare that ridership grew by an average of 4% for each of the last three years.
5% ridership growth is a good goal for an agency that isn’t planning any major new services, like Metro. 5% growth is much greater than the 2006 growth for transit agencies in America’s two other major metropolitans, New York (at .2%) and Chicago ( at .5%.) Even my old state of New Jersey has experienced only 4% growth and it added new light rail lines in Camden and Newark in recent years.
However, this rapid growth needs to be put into greater context than just comparing the percentages in America’s three largest cities. Unfortunately, LA’s reputation as the car driving capital of the country is well deserved. According to the U.S. census bureau, LA is way behind in total number of transit trips, and percentage of commuters who ride transit.
Chicago, on the back of an extensive bus network and the famous "L" train had over a quarter (25.3%) of its commuters taking transit. New York, with its world-famous subway system continues to set the standard at 54.2%. In LA, over half of commuters drive by themselves to the office and only 11% take transit.
Metro’s goals are great, but even if it meets them, there’s a long way to go. The increase in transit riders along the I-5 corridor last (and this) week isn’t an isolated incident. LA has seen similar shifts to transit during the Olympics in the 1980’s and the earthquake in the 1990’s. If LA is ever going to see long-term congestion relief, its going to have to find a way to achieve this kind of mode shift on a more permanent basis.