Semi-reprint: Methodology for determining transit expansion
The discussion in the comments section of this entry "The need for a double decker bus vs. streetcar comparison study" has ended up addressing ridership of the DC Circulator. I guess I had forgotten that there is a "dashboard" provided by the DC Department of Transportation for that system, which shows ridership, overall and by route. Charlie helpfully provided the link.
-- DC Circulator dashboard
-- Baltimore Circulator ridership data (note that this is a free service, funded by a tax on parking lots and structures, and Baltimore has fewer people working and visiting downtown compared to DC)
DC Circulator ridership per day
High and low service months (2013 data)
|Route||Ridership Peak||Month||Ridership Low||Month|
|Union Station-Navy Yard||1,700||July||900||November|
I had no idea that the ridership of these various bus lines was so pathetic. I knew they were bad mostly, but I had no idea how low the ridership is--other than the fact that I look at every Circulator bus that I pass and judge the amount of ridership on that particular bus, and most cases, except Downtown-Georgetown and sometimes on 14th Street, the number of riders appears to be minimal.
2. Circulator expansion is a form of what I call political bus service, provided to assuage business or neighborhood groups, but not really justifiable on a cost basis, because it gets minimal ridership.
The reason this matters is that besides "branding" the most significant element of Circulator service is frequency, ideally every 10 minutes. But to justify that level of service cost-wise, you need high ridership, probably 9,000 to 12,000 DC's highest used buslines provided by Metrobus provide service as frequent as every 6-8 minutes during peak times, and have from 15,000 to 20,000 daily riders.
Even though DDOT makes information about the services available, they are not subject to the same budgetary pressures as the transit services offered by Metro, because the Metro budget process is much more public because their fare and route system is subject to federal regulations about how changes can be implemented, while locally-provided services don't have the same requirements.
So they evade real scrutiny.
3. This is why for many years I have advocated for the creation of an objective set of service metrics and standards for locally-provided transit service, so that decisions about what to offer or to not offer can be made in an objective, non-political, cost effective manner.
I frequently mention the service standards manual published by the King County Metro in Seattle, and I forgot about the methodology used in Orlando, which is discussed below.
Reprint from December 2010
Methodology for determining transit expansion, Orlando (Lynx system)
Originally uploaded by rllayman
I told him it was a combination of (1) my giving up, because my arguments about the need for standards and metrics justifying this level of service have had no effect on expansion planning for Circulator bus service in DC, and (2) that it is possible, that like the service in Adams-Morgan/Columbia Heights, it's possible that the service is justified.
Now I have blogged a number of entries about the Circulator and neighborhood expansion. The Circulator bus service is designed to be high frequency. High frequency services are only justified when there is high ridership.
This concept is captured by a slide in the 2030 Transit (Lynx) Plan for the Orlando Metropolitan Area in Florida.
The slide lays out the three step process for determining areas where service should be provided, and where expansion is justified by travel demand. (Other slides discuss different types of transit services, the choice of which are based on capacity, speed, distance, and ridership projections.)
This is the kind of process we don't seem to have in DC, for DC-specific expenditures on transit service development and expansion. Instead, it's political, spreading around service to various wards (which is what happened with the Main Street program in its later years as well) to satisfy Councilmembers and their constituents, rather than being justified by demand and a consideration of the best use of scarce financial resources.
The Circulator bus lines serving Downtown and Georgetown have the type of higher ridership that justifies Circulator-type service.
For neighborhood services, the Columbia Heights-Adams Morgan route has closer to the kind of ridership necessary to justify high frequency, while the Capitol Hill-Navy Yard Circulator does not.
The Union Station-Navy Yard DC Circulator uses 30 foot buses, because ridership projections did not justify larger buses.
In my typology of metropolitan transit networks, there is a category for intra-neighborhood transit service (called the center city tertiary transit network), and this level of service justifies subway station and commercial district centric bus service. But that means that a Circulator in this area ought not to then go to McPherson Square, instead it should move people around the neighborhoods, the transit stations, and the commercial districts.
It could be that East of the River bus services need to be reconfigured to better serve activity centers and subway stations. That was suggested in a comment on a blog entry on this topic last January.