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Did Rush Plus depress Blue Line ridership?

To make room for new Silver Line trains at the Rosslyn bottleneck, WMATA has reduced the number of Blue Line (and Orange Line) trains and added Yellow Line trains. A group calling itself Save the Blue Line claims that a similar change in 2012 caused riders to stop using Metro. Is that accurate?

Graph from Save The Blue Line.

In June of 2012, Metro started a new service pattern in Virginia. To make way for more Orange Line trains and more service in north Arlington and Fairfax, the agency started sending some "Blue" Line trains from Franconia over the Yellow Line bridge to Greenbelt, labeled "Rush Plus" Yellow Line trains.

In the two years since, has that lowered ridership?

It's hard to say with any certainty. Ridership at the stations south of Pentagon is lower than it was before Rush Plus. On the other hand, ridership was already dropping before Rush Plus started.

There's actually an error in the Save The Blue Line graph: while the arrow suggests Rush Plus started between the 2011 and 2012 data points, the 2012 data is actually from a count in May, before Rush Plus started. The arrow should actually point one more space to the right, and therefore the drop you can see on the graph began before Rush Plus.

Did Rush Plus contribute to the ridership drop?

We cannot prove causation from correlation, but perhaps we can glean some insight from the numbers.

If we look just at boardings from Van Dorn Street and Franconia/Springfield, we can see a noticeable dip starting in about 2010. It continues into 2013 before leveling off a bit.

This and all subsequent graphics by the author.

From 2011 to 2012 (one year before Rush Plus), ridership at Van Dorn and Franconia declined 3.94%. That drop contrasted with a systemwide increase in ridership of 0.13%. So before Rush Plus the Blue Line (the end at least) was already losing riders compared to the rest of the system.

The May 2013 number is the first data point after Rush Plus started. In the period from May 2012 to May 2013, ridership at Van Dorn and Franconia shrank 7.81%, significantly more than the systemwide decline of 2.57%.

The ridership decrease was somewhat attenuated between 2013 and 2014, where at Franconia and Van Dorn it dropped only 1.17% compared to 0.55% systemwide.

If we look at all the stations most affected by Rush Plus, from Pentagon south, we see similar trends, though they're less strong.

Prior to Rush Plus, average daily boardings at Pentagon and the stations to the south (to Huntington and Franconia/Springfield) declined 3.68% over the 12 months from May 2011 to May 2012. Following 11 months of Rush Plus, ridership on this section had dropped 4.49% (compared to 2.57% systemwide).

So the data do show that ridership on the Blue and Yellow lines south of Pentagon has been lower since Rush Plus was implemented. But the ridership was already shrinking before Rush Plus.

It's certainly possible that Rush Plus exacerbated the ridership loss, but there's no way to tell for sure with the data available.

Even if Rush Plus did cause a significant drop, there's little WMATA can do. The tracks between Rosslyn and Stadium/Armory are operating at their capacity of 26 trains per hour. With Silver Line service starting this weekend, something has to give. With higher ridership in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, WMATA has decided to shift some Blue Line trains onto the 7th Street subway.

The number of trains at Franconia and Van Dorn hasn't decreased. Passengers still have the same number of trains going downtown. But fewer of them go to Rosslyn. For getting to the western end of downtown, some riders will now be better off transferring at L'Enfant Plaza.

WMATA planners are hoping to relieve pressure in the future by upgrading the system to handle more 8-car trains and building new Blue Line platforms at Rosslyn. Future phases could take the line across downtown.

Without more railcars, power stations, and core capacity, WMATA has little alternative but to reduce Blue Line service. That's why riders frustrated at losing Blue Line trains can have the best impact by lobbying their elected officials to fund Metro's plans for 8-car trains, a second Rosslyn station, and eventually a new crossing into DC.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer. 


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But why didn't Metro plan for a second Rosslyn station or new crossing YEARS ago? Why do we blue line riders have to take the fall now for poor long term planning? I get it, the orange line takes priority with higher ridership. But still...frustrating.

by Why WMATA on Jul 25, 2014 12:05 pm • linkreport

Obvious answer: money

by movement on Jul 25, 2014 12:13 pm • linkreport

Virginia doesn't care about public transportation so metro can plan all they want and it won't matter.

by vance on Jul 25, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport

The blue line certainly does make things harder for people at the end of the lines. At Van Dorn Street, it's nearly impossible to get a parking spot, and the waits between trains is inconvenient.

But a problem that I've never heard anyone discuss is the link between Pentagon and downtown. Pentagon is a tremendous bus hub. I take an express bus that picks me up basically right in front of my house in Alexandria and drops me at Pentagon in 15 minutes. From there, I need to get to Farragut West. This used to be very simple. But starting with Rush Plus, and now with the silver line, this formerly 4 stop ride got way more complicated.

Because of the blue line shortage, I now have to get on the yellow line, transfer at lenfent - which is going far in the wrong direction - then back track 5 stops on the orange/blue.

Why make a huge bus bay at Pentagon and then ruin the metro links to downtown from there? Makes no sense.

Are there any numbers on how many people do that commute? The bus bay and the trains are packed in the morning, I can't be alone. Super frustrating.

by Stag05 on Jul 25, 2014 12:30 pm • linkreport

What is the job growth at Foggy Bottom and Farragut West in the next 10 years?

What stations contribute most to the Blue Line capacity?

More VRE service from Springfield?

More ART43 Service?

by jcp on Jul 25, 2014 12:34 pm • linkreport

Do those who continue to push additional VRE service or VRE replacing the Blue line understand at all the complaints of Blue line users and why the line is not growing consistently with the rest of the system?

by selxic on Jul 25, 2014 12:48 pm • linkreport

Why WMATA -- what happened is that during the recession of 2003, WMATA RIFed most of its construction staff, and devolved expansion planning responsibilities to the jurisdictions.

For ideological reasons concerning privatization, the State of Virginia did not want WMATA to plan and construct a Silver Line expansion. That had already been going on before the 2003 decision.

I can't claim to know the details of the Compact agreement between the jurisdictions.

But I do not understand why the Silver Line was allowed to be planned and constructed without the State of Virginia having to take some financial responsibility for the impact of the line on the rest of the system, including the necessity of having a second crossing in the vicinity of Rosslyn.

At the time of the devolvement, only Arlington's transit planning advocated for the creation of a "separated blue line" and a second crossing, which had been in WMATA's planning framework in 2001, but was junked along with the construction department with the RIF.

This 2006 blog entry links to two 2001 Post articles about this, and cites a 2003 article that isn't online describing the RIF and change in WMATA policies.

With the devolvement, it was up to DC to step up and say, "hey, let's leverage the construction of the Silver Line to create a second crossing, and make the separated blue line concept happen, while at the same time adding service to Georgetown and adding redundancy and capacity to the core of the system with a parallel line, given that it is projected that by 2025 the core will be at capacity and this isn't beneficial to the economic competitiveness of DC's central business district."

But DC didn't do that. Remember at the time the city was still comparatively poor. It wasn't til the Fenty Administration that big budget surpluses were a more regular occurrence.

They figured they could never come up with the money, and distracted themselves with a focus on streetcars, which are an intra-city transit servcie, and not really focused that much on addressing issues relevant to Metrorail.

It was a massive failure of vision.

Personally, I do not like the new Metro Momentum proposal of the loop, because from the standpoint of DC, it truncates a "separated blue line" and doesn't allow new Metrorail service to be added east of Union Station, such as to H St. and Benning Road, which was proposed in the original proposal.

This image of the conceptual routing of the separated blue line is from one of those 2001 Post articles. It's not online, but the author of the pieces was kind enough to get a copy to me, when I worked with her on some stories around 2004-2005.

Obviously, TPB did nothing...

by Richard Layman on Jul 25, 2014 12:48 pm • linkreport

sorry, forgot the url for the 2006 blog post,

2. P.S., why no hypotheses about the drop in ridership along the segment of the blue line discussed in this piece?

by Richard Layman on Jul 25, 2014 12:50 pm • linkreport

something may have needed to give, but it does NOT need to give THIS much. i was taking the blue line this week from mcpherson to king street. they had already started the silver line cars to test service. i watched as 2 trains each for silver and orange went by before a blue train finally arrived. the problem here is that orange and silver share WAY more stations than orange and blue ever did. for a large numebr of riders, it won't matter whether they get on an orange or silver train. but the same can't be said for the blue line. that's the problem. 4 trains in a row which share 80% of the same stops is unnecessary. why should i transfer as a blue line rider, instead of just making a silver lines less frequent and have THOSE riders transfer from orange to silver once they get out to east falls church?

by jen on Jul 25, 2014 12:51 pm • linkreport

Degrading service on the blue line is pretty much WMATA's only way to encourge Virginia to kick in for a seperate tunnel. You don't need to be a WMATA apolgist. Also very apparent to anyone who thoought about this when the Silver Line was being mooted.

This only will be a real issue if the Silver Line rider numbers start off low and don't grow.

by charlie on Jul 25, 2014 12:53 pm • linkreport

It seems like the obvious solution is more express buses leaving Franconia/Van Dorn for Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom/Farragut if there is any. I suspect transferring from Yellow Rush Plus would still be faster during rush hour.

by BTA on Jul 25, 2014 1:02 pm • linkreport

Silver line shouldn't have built without additional capacity in the core.

However, this is a case of virginia screwing virginia, so, meh.

by yep on Jul 25, 2014 1:04 pm • linkreport

What do the numbers look like for only am peak boardings? How do they compare with numbers for weekends? To the extent that am peak boardings on the blue line have fallen more than the weekend, rush plus is probably the cause. But if weekends (when rush plus has no effect, even as part of round trips) have fallen as much as am peak, then rush plus is not the cause.

(A more detailed analysis could look at system-wide trends in weekend travel versus am peak, concentrating on suburban stations comparable to the Virginia blue line.)

by Ben Ross on Jul 25, 2014 1:16 pm • linkreport

A. There are buses from Pentagon to west side of downtown, which IIUC are currently used by a number of folks arriving at the bus bays

B. Fairfax was not going to wait for SL to Tysons, since that would delay the Tysons transformation. Since a seperate blue line crossing would take so long to plan, agree on, and finance, that would have meant a large delay to SL. Arlington and esp Alexandria are most hurt, and they don't have the clout Fairfax has.

C. Of course Van Dorn has little parking - its not a parking focused station (as F-S is). Its heavily used though, by people on buses and kiss n ride dropoffs. With some improvments to infra in the area it will be better for pedestrians and cyclists.

Whats done is done. The combo of Yellow line, buses, VRE, and residual blue line service may not be ideal for blue line riders, but they are probably adequate for most. Meanwhile, as said above, the next step is to get more of Va on board with a new Rosslyn station, and then a new crossing.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Jul 25, 2014 1:19 pm • linkreport

Great analysis using what data are available, Matt.

It is really unfortunate that WMATA releases very little meaningful ridership data. They have only the station-by-station average weekday numbers on the website and some one-off more detailed months that have been released.

Having station-by-station or preferably O-D trip information (starting and ending station) by day and time of day would bring a lot more insight to the question of just HOW ridership has changed.

by MLD on Jul 25, 2014 1:41 pm • linkreport

Do any pocket tracks exist on the Silver Line...say between EFC and McLean? When Phase II opens it may make sense to turn back trains after McLean and allow more blue line trains through the Rosslyn Tunnel.

It will be interesting to see how the increased reverse commute effects the Rosslyn Tunnel.

I-66 BRT could reduce the Orange Line ridership with service between Fair Oaks/Centreville/Manassas - Ballston - Farragut Square to allow for more blue line trains.

by jcp on Jul 25, 2014 2:31 pm • linkreport

"Virginia doesn't care about public transportation so metro can plan all they want and it won't matter."

I wasn't aware the new stations of the Silver Line were in DC and Maryland.

by Kolohe on Jul 25, 2014 2:31 pm • linkreport

I don't think there is any short term solutions short of rapidly expanding and adding new bus service in the Arlington/Alexandria area.

by BTA on Jul 25, 2014 2:41 pm • linkreport


No. The only pocket track that exists on phase 1 of the Silver Line is at Wiehle.

Credit goes to Sand Box John and his track schema:

by Rob K on Jul 25, 2014 2:44 pm • linkreport

CrossingBrooklynFerry -- had a second tunnel been planned for at the beginning, it wouldn't have had to delay the system opening much at all. Sure it would have cost a lot of $, it just would have been a much bigger project, involving both VA and DC.

by Richard Layman on Jul 25, 2014 2:55 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman

I don't think we can lay that much of the blame on the lack of a new river crossing on DC. Until 2007, there was serious doubt that the Sliver line would be built at all. DC has at least stepped up to the plate now with the its MoveDC plan, which attaches a budget of $.7.7 billion for adding additional stations and a connection to Rosslyn.

That said, the region which includes Maryland and the Feds, needs to invest in the core over the next decade because all users will benefit.

by Randall M. on Jul 25, 2014 4:54 pm • linkreport

Richard Layman

Looking at the discussions currently underway about routing and financing the crossing and loop/seperate blue line, I think determining the exact route and agreeing on financing would have delayed the SL, unless by "the beginning" you mean even before the SL planning got underway in earnest.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Jul 25, 2014 5:02 pm • linkreport

@Rob K

So the according to the schematic a train could turn around at the Pinefield Street (N01) switch if necessary.

by jcp on Jul 25, 2014 6:27 pm • linkreport

It's bad news for Blue Line riders, but I can't help thinking some of this is strategic. If Blue Line riders get sufficiently agitated, they might make enough noise to get the support Metro will need to go forward with the new tunnel and the other changes that will be increasingly necessary but probably could be used now.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Jul 25, 2014 10:02 pm • linkreport

I agree Fischer. I feel like Jasper has made similar arguments before and I must say I agree!

BTW I was in Colombia last week and rode the TransMillenio. I
The ridership and frequencies were impressive but that is in no way equal to a heavy rail line. Hard to me that prominent folks were saying BRT instead of the silver line. What a disaster that would have been.

I do see how BRT could be a decent substitute for surface rail in certain situations. It's still a damp bus though lol. Ride rough and in Bogota they are still talking about building (and desperately need) a metro. Crazy seeing huge numbers of cars parked outside the city center waiting for rush hour to end so they can drive in to the central part of town. Would never fly in the US.

by h st ll on Jul 25, 2014 10:24 pm • linkreport


Technically, yes. However, N01 is the lead to the West Falls Church yard, so Metro probably wouldn't want to make a habit of turning/holding trains there.

The leads to the Alexandria yard could mimic a pocket track in the same way, but I don't recall Metro ever short turning trains there, even in times of track work.

by Rob K on Jul 25, 2014 11:27 pm • linkreport

To the OP's point, reactivate the Shirley busway and build dedicated BRT ROW lanes on 12th and 9th up to F Street so that express bus riders have one-seat rides into Gallery Place and Metro Center. Yes, you lose the 395 HOV lanes but would gain overall capacity. Even with new platforms at major 395 crossings like Shirlington, Duke Street, and even on-395 at the Pentagon itself, this could be implemented within a year for less than the cost of a new outer-Loudon county park and ride garage on the Sprawl - I mean Silver - Line.

Why did Virginia want the Silver line but is uninterested in paying for new Arlington-DC connection? Because Washington Board of Trade members don't see billions in new sprawl real estate profits to be gained from you not having to stand an extra five minutes on a platform or even having a seat.

by Paul H on Jul 26, 2014 10:00 am • linkreport

"Even if Rush Plus did cause a significant drop, there's little WMATA can do."

Stop lying.

WMATA can reduce Silver and Orange service to restore minimum service levels for the Blue Line right now, with no new infrastructure, at a net cost of exactly $0. This is the only correct solution to the "problem" of under-serving the Blue Line.

The fact of the matter is, contrary to suggestions made by other commenters here, people will not "make enough noise to get the support Metro will need to go forward with the new tunnel," they will continue to agitate for restored Blue service, which is a prerequisite to building the new tunnel, right up until the day Blue service is finally dropped entirely. Nobody is going to invest the kind of capital into a new tunnel for the Blue line if it continues to atrophy riders on the hopes that a new tunnel "might" cause a surge in ridership, and nobody frankly should.

The fact of the matter is that if WMATA and advocates can't be bothered to support the Blue Line as is because it's somehow unacceptable to give the Blue Line just 3 more trains, then there's no reason to support a separated Blue Line. Instead, adjust the plans for a separated Silver Line instead, and let's just get the fight over cutting the Blue Line entirely over with right now.

by Ryan on Jul 26, 2014 12:25 pm • linkreport

Is there any reason why the Orange wasn't made to loop back into VA in the first place, like how the Red does? I know why, from a "there's no switch that does that" angle now but back before Shovel of Dirt #1 was turned that it wasn't planned. I can't help but wonder if a world that had an "Orange & Yellow Lines Bridge" and Orange running Vienna-Springfield via...somewhere might have eased having fewer Huntingdon-Largo Blues.

And ANC bugs me because that one station causes so much grief.

by Another Nick on Jul 27, 2014 11:19 am • linkreport

I cannot speak for others, but in my case, the cost of parking at Huntington, the unreliable/infrequent weekend service, and the frequent elevator/escalator 'not in service' conditions are factors that contribute to my reduced use of the Yellow Line.

Am I the only one with factors like these eroding loyalty to Metro?

by Daniel on Jul 27, 2014 7:45 pm • linkreport

Daniel - Nope. I live off the Red Line.

by asffa on Jul 27, 2014 9:56 pm • linkreport

Apparently Metro's GM said in comments at the opening of the Silver Line that there would be no more system expansions until capacity issues are addressed.

Cynically, "capacity increases" could simply be the phased introduction of 8-car trains. But optimistically, it could foreshadow a new crossing.

Or maybe there's no capacity upgrades in the pipe.

by Future on Jul 28, 2014 7:52 am • linkreport

Stop lying.

Rephrase - There's little WMATA can do and still maintain crowding standards across all lines.

Maybe you need to hop on the Orange Crush one day - BL riders are just starting to experience the kind of crowding that is a daily reality for Orange Line riders.

Anyone who rides the Blue Line to western DC can use the Yellow and transfer to avoid that crowding. Orange Line riders who ride anywhere inbound don't have other options. That is why the train levels are the way they are.

by MLD on Jul 28, 2014 8:45 am • linkreport

"Nobody is going to invest the kind of capital into a new tunnel for the Blue line if it continues to atrophy riders on the hopes that a new tunnel "might" cause a surge in ridership, and nobody frankly should."

I was at Pentagon station this AM. No sign to me of the atrophy.

And the tunnel will be built because Arlington and Alexandria push for it to make RE along the blue line more valuable, because FFX pushes for it so they can get additional lines, and also because the line on the DC side will have considerable value.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Jul 28, 2014 8:52 am • linkreport

Your graphic is different than the one on the website.

and here

Their graphic shows the arrow after the start of 2012. Yours shows the arrow prior to the 2012 datapoint.

Also, very nice submission, but you don't explain what might be responsible for the ridership decline. Service/reliability issues, fare hikes, or the combination from both?

by Self-Righteous Person on Jul 28, 2014 10:19 am • linkreport

@Self-Righteous Person:
They corrected their graphic after we ran this post. Their original graphic is the one shown above.

by Matt Johnson on Jul 28, 2014 10:27 am • linkreport

This is a standard "Corelation does not prove Causation" situation. Another likely factor (and perhaps more powerful) is the well-documented impact of the 2005 BRAC legislation which had a disproportionate impact on employment centers on the Blue Line in NOVA, especially Crystal City, Pentagon City.

It's likely that the resulting lower occupancy (which really began in 2009 around the time the ridership graph takes a dip) had a stronger impact on the ridership numbers than did RushPlus.

Another key factor is that the increase in Yellow Line Trains as a result of RushPlus would naturally pull more riders.

by Causation on Jul 28, 2014 10:50 am • linkreport

If we assume that every third train at Metro Center is Blue, it should have 4.5-minute headways at rush hour. This is assuming no additional infrastructure. So why are the Blue Line headways nearly three times longer than that?

by J.D. Hammond on Aug 6, 2014 1:25 pm • linkreport

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