Expo Line Un-Reasonably Closing in on 2020 Ridership Goals

It seems rail transit can perform just fine in Los Angeles, despite what folks at the pretend-Libertarian Reason Foundation would tell you.

The Expo Line is on track to shatter ridership expectations, illustrating the folly of analyzing a rail line's usefulness based on ridership on its first week of operation.

Back in April, the Foundation sent a pair of riders to ride the mostly-opened Expo Line and declared it a disaster. In its first weeks of operation, the line barely attracted a third of the ridership expected for the line by 2020. When other outlets, including Angie Schmitt for Streetsblog, argued that judging a rail line’s overall worth in its first week of existence is a form of journalism malpractice, Reason doubled, then tripled down that having two grown men ride a train for a day in its first week of operation counting the people they see is a credible way to determine if a rail line is a failure.

Phase I of the Expo Line connects downtown Los Angeles to downtown Culver City and rolls past major attractions including USC, Staples Center/LA Live, Exposition Park and the Science Center. Phase II is scheduled to open in 2015 or 2016 and will extend the line from Culver City to Santa Monica. The ridership estimates in 2020 are only for Phase I.

It must be with some horror that Reason Foundation writer Scott Shackford watches the ridership numbers steadily climb. In fact, the rail line attracted nearly 20,000 riders every weekday (actually 19,776) in August according to statistics provided by Metro.  When designing the Expo Line, Metro estimated the line would attract 27,000 daily weekday riders on Phase I by 2020. Ridership on Phase I doubled since the line’s April opening from 9,000 riders to 20,000 riders. While clearly the current growth rate is not sustainable, the line will not be doubling its ridership every four months, the rapid growth points to Expo shattering ridership projections.

Incidentally, August was a great month for Metro’s bus and rail service. In addition to good news for Expo, the Green Line saw its third highest number of weekday boardings (45,536), the Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit had its second highest number of weekday boardings (27,513) and the Blue Line had its best month ever with 92,006 daily weekday boardings.

There’s a reason that Streetsblog is continually carping on the Reason Foundation for its slap shod analysis of rail transit. Reason has done a lot of important research on transportation including studies showing how subsidized “short hop” air service wastes money, how Congress should consider more toll roads for future road construction, and they even make some interesting points about how Los Angeles’ decision to build rail while cutting bus service has not led to increased ridership in their Expo Line pieces. By publishing transportation arguments that don’t pass the laugh test, regardless of whether or not one agrees with their conclusions, Reason discredits and takes away from the other research the Foundation undertakes.

The second is that the Reason Foundation is popular with “free market” thinkers that dominate the Republican party. If their arguments go unchallenged, they could become de-facto truth in many corners of Washington, D.C.