Metro ridership has been declining in recent years even as it spikes in other parts of the country, a potential concern to owners of downtown real estate. If employees are working remotely, the value of Washington office space is potentially diminished. And almost all of Metro’s ridership losses in the past year are from weekdays.
Officials and Metro riders have raised a series of possible reasons for the decline, among them federal job cuts, slow economic growth, increased teleworking, more bike commuters, increased fares and disruptions caused by track work.
Recently Metro officials drilled more deeply into the numbers and in a memo they outlined why they believe a central cause is the cut to federal transit benefits from $245 to $130.
Ridership declines began well before the benefit cut, so benefit levels are unlikely to explain all of the ridership losses. But Metro officials think the cut is behind the most recent drop . . . .These are all valid reasons, and they omit one more recent cause: The reduced price of gasoline. While not as steep in the Reston area, the price of gas in Winchester and even southern Fairfax County is now running about $2.25 per gallon for regular vice recent prices near $4/gallon a year ago. Hopefully, those prices will come to Reston soon. While we would be the last to try to forecast how long these low prices will last (possibly only until the return of spring and greater travel), a sustained reduction in gasoline prices will mean more people on the area's roads and fewer on Metrorail or even the Fairfax Connector--especially in the face of federal cuts in transit subsidies.
We all know what driving on our area roads is like and the possibility that more people will choose to drive--especially for commuting purposes--is concerning. It raises the question--and the opportunity--for area local governments and private employers to increase their transit subsidies to help assure the growth of Metro and bus transit while keeping needed capacity expansion in local roads at a minimum. And local Congressmen need to prevent further cuts--and seek increases--in federal transit subsidies to prevent further erosion of Metrorail use.