Metrorail Trends and Markets: Synopsis of Recent Ridership Growth


Wenyu Jia

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

ridership - growth, place - urban, place - cbd, mode - bus, mode - rail, mode - subway/metro


Weekends, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Washington (District of Columbia), Urban development, Special events, Ridership, Revitalization (Communities), Rail transit, Patronage (Transit ridership), Off peak periods, Metrorail (Washington Metropolitan Area), Market assessment, Major activity centers, Downtowns, City centers, Central business districts, Activity centers, Access


The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority operates the second-busiest heavy rail transit system in the country, serving 3.5 million people over a 1,500-mi² service area. Ridership on Metrorail has continued to rise steadily since service started in 1976 and has been driven by system expansion and regional growth. This paper presents the emerging trends and travel markets of Metrorail transit in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region, with the purpose of providing better planning for and serving a growing and changing transit market. The paper also examines the connections between Metrorail system growth and urban development at the regional, local, and station-area levels. The analysis is based on 2002 and 2007 Metrorail passenger surveys and the most recent ridership growth study. The paper concludes that although system expansion and regional development remain significant contributors to the growth in ridership on the system, sporting events and downtown activities have emerged as new factors that have driven the recent growth. The growth in ridership is particularly noticeable in the non-work-related, off-peak, and weekend travel markets and at stations in the downtown area and is revitalizing communities and suburban activity centers. The paper also highlights the significant modal shift in access to the Metrorail system, with increasing walking, bicycling, and bus trips occurring. In conclusion, Metrorail is meeting the increasingly diverse transportation needs of the region, supporting emerging urban trends, and enhancing local development initiatives.