The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Watch the patterns of Metro ridership

As a Metro train rolls along the tracks, who gets on and off? Where are they going? You can't read minds, but thanks to Metro's ridership data, you can watch patterns of riders on a typical train in a great new tool.

Morning peak riders at Union Station on a Shady Grove-bound Red Line train.
Image from

When public agencies release data sets, people can do all kinds of fascinating things with them. Yesterday, Matt Johnson used the Metro ridership data to show us which stations are busiest (with more to come), and Aaron Wiener looked at the most popular trips on different lines.

Reader Graham MacDonald sent along this interactive tool he created, Pick a train line, a direction, and a time of day, click play, and see a simulated train pick up and drop off passengers.

At each stop, the symbol for the train gets larger or smaller as the number of passengers on board changes. Meanwhile, circles at other stations on the map show where the passengers on the train are going.

Look below the map, and bar graphs show how the ridership of trains at this particular stop compare to equivalent stops along other lines.

It's all aggregate data showing a typical train total numbers of riders along segments of the lines, not one actual train, but you can almost imagine the riders on board a train all going to their many destinations.

What interesting patterns do you notice from playing with this tool?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


Add a comment »

Fascinating. It seems that most people stay on the same line. I wonder if that means that riders would be more likely to take public transportation if the transfer process was made easier.

by Ben on Nov 27, 2012 10:46 am • linkreport

At the Red Line's most crowded point (Between Dupont Circle and Farragut North headed to Glenmont) there are 29,561 riders while on the Orange Line from Rosslyn to Foggy Bottom, there are 27,558 riders.

I know there are more trains on the Red Line because it doesn't have to compete with the Blue Line for space (like the orange has to), but this really shows that there's more than just the "Orange Crush" we often hear about. For comparison, the Red Line reaches the peak amount of riders the Orange Line has at its busiest point at Cleveland Park, two stations before its peak. I used to commute Tenleytown to Foggy Bottom and later Tenleytown to Farragut North and it would consistently be impossible to find a seat during peak hours and about weekly it would be impossible to get onto the first train or two. I wonder how this compares to other stations on other lines that are several stops away from downtown.

by ARM on Nov 27, 2012 10:54 am • linkreport

Kudos to Graham for producing a great visualization!

One note is that (I believe) Graham's numbers show riders on all trains between two stations for a time period, not on a "typical train." In other words, this is total passengers for the time period, not normalized for the number of trains - but I could be wrong.

by JDAntos on Nov 27, 2012 11:03 am • linkreport

You appear to be correct.

It would be great to normalize it by dividing the riders by the number of trains along that stretch. Of course the issue you get to is that for shared segments, it's more complicated to figure out how crowded an Orange Line train is versus a Blue Line train between McPerhson and Metro Center.

by Matt Johnson on Nov 27, 2012 11:05 am • linkreport

Neat data display tool. Is it feasible to have WMATA release similar spreadsheet data for May 2007 and 2002 to provide a 5 year interval baseline? I would not expect a significant change in traffic patterns since 2002, but I do expect that there will be visible changes going forward as the Silver Line opens and there is increased TOD around many stations.

@ARM, the AM weekday peak load for the Orange Line headed to New Carrolton is from Courthouse to Rosslyn at 29,732 riders which slightly exceeds the peak you found for the Red Line. The AM weekday Blue Line trains headed to Largo from Rosslyn to Foggy Bottom has 12,614 riders. Add that to the 27,558 riders on the Orange Line trains from Rosslyn to Foggy Bottom and the total number of riders going through the tunnel to Foggy Bottom is well above the peak rider load on the Red Line (all AM peak).

by AlanF on Nov 27, 2012 11:24 am • linkreport

Yes, the rider numbers appear to be the total numbers on the trains and stations for the period. It could be normalized over the number of trains, but one might also want to add in the number of 6 and 8 car trains to get a per car average.

I think there is considerable value in looking at the average total number of riders on a segment. Provides visibility, independent of the number of trains, as to where the peak passenger loads are and how many headed to which stations. We know the Rosslyn to/from Foggy Bottom is crowded on weekday peaks. Are there surprising other busy peak segments other than the well known ones that show up in the data?

by AlanF on Nov 27, 2012 11:47 am • linkreport

I've corrected the post to explain that it's total numbers of riders rather than a typical train.

by David Alpert on Nov 27, 2012 11:50 am • linkreport

@AlanF oops, big overlook of Courthouse on my part. The way you talk about combining the blue and orange numbers makes more sense than any other I've seen in media so far but I wonder about how the ridership is spread between the two lines from Rosslyn to Foggy Bottom.

by ARM on Nov 27, 2012 11:51 am • linkreport

When talking about load on the lines, this (3-year old) flow diagram from Matt Johnson is very informative:

Patterns have changed, and Rush Plus caused some more change (but not as much as people expected).

by David Alpert on Nov 27, 2012 12:03 pm • linkreport

Nice graphic.

Definitely reinforces the idea that there needs to be more/return of the "downtown trains" that keep more cars in the heart of the city. On the redline the SSpring-Grovesnor.

Can trains turn around at Foggy Bottom? If they could, I wonder if it would be useful to run more trains from Foggy Bottom to Stadium Armory.

by DAJ on Nov 27, 2012 1:33 pm • linkreport

@Ben "Fascinating. It seems that most people stay on the same line. I wonder if that means that riders would be more likely to take public transportation if the transfer process was made easier."

Yes, my guess is a lot of people (especially those moving to the area) pick their home location based on their work location.

by jh on Nov 27, 2012 1:37 pm • linkreport

Nice work. One question: how do you know people's routes? I thought WMATA did not record passengers' transfer points, only entry and exit.

by Zhan on Nov 27, 2012 3:20 pm • linkreport

You have to estimate. When I did a model of rider flows in 2009, I took a survey to determine where people were likely to transfer.

by Matt Johnson on Nov 27, 2012 3:23 pm • linkreport

What is the patterns of ridership/transfers for bus routes at metro stations. Do more people ride buses to stations to transfer to other buses or to the rail in each jurisdiction ?

by kk on Nov 28, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us