The Met Council got a ridership update the other day
At first glance, the topline numbers look pretty dire. Local bus is down 9% on the year, which is a drastic acceleration of a national slide. Light rail is up 3%, which is nice, but not as rapid growth as seen in previous years. BRT is up 12%, which is nice, but then you remember that the other lines still have significant funding gaps.
But I actually don't think there's too much cause for concern when you look a little closer. I have a couple frustrations with the way the data is being presented. To start, I'm wondering how the transition from the #19 to the C Line was accounted for. The jump in BRT and fall in local bus are more extreme than was reported in Q1, and I suspect that part of that is just one month of shifting what used to be #19 rides to the C Line and thus from the local bus column to the BRT column. I wasn't at the presentation obviously, where that was probably spoken for, but I'm suspicious that the 2018-2019 comparisons are apples to apples.
A bigger problem I have is that the numbers compare the Year-to-Date instead of Q2 to Q2. We already know that Metro Transit had a terrible January and a bad February
, both of which were primarily the result of awful weather leading to travelers cancelling their trips to work from home, take care of kids out of school, etc. Those numbers will drag down the 2019 numbers overall (but might look make 2020 look really good by comparison if that winter is more mild, who knows), and showing YTD numbers doesn't help us understand if the system is actually growing ridership or losing it. Comparing Q2 and especially Q3 numbers from each year against each other is probably a better measure, since weather is less of a factor.
You can see it in the chart:
The only slide that provides a smaller-grained year-to-year comparison is the first one, although it doesn't provide numbers. But what it does show should be... possibly reassuring? Metro Transit outperformed the previous year in April, essentially tied the previous year in May, and underperformed in June. Without the exact data, Q2 2019 looks like a wash compared with Q2 2018. Given the system's recent trend of small but consistent declines led by falling local bus ridership, breaking even is a relative improvement.
We'll see what's in store for the rest of the year, but the tl;dr, as far as I can tell, is that 2019's numbers still look awful, but that's mostly due to factors that are more out of Metro Transit's control, and there's still no reason to panic.