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How Do You Count Riders for a Future Streetcar?

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, November 08, 2011, at 04:54PM
LA Streetcar Rendering LA Streetcar Inc

Rendering of the proposed L.A. Streetcar project on Figueroa next to Staples Center.

If a streetcar returns to Downtown Los Angeles, it would carry somewhere between 5,820 and 13,600 riders daily, according to a draft study done for the project.

That's a wide range for a number that is an important piece of the transit planning process, but the study done by Fehr & Peers does an interesting job of explaining all the elements and assumptions that go into predicting just how people will use a new system.

There are seven route variations currently under study as part of the streetcar's environmental process, ranging in cost from $105 to $130 million and in length from 3.32 to 5.16 miles.

To estimate ridership, Fehr & Peers studied existing streetcar systems in Portland, Seattle and Tacoma, looking for variables that could be used to create a model of how systems and stops attract riders. They arrived at five main variables for each stop: urban density, number of feeder trains, whether the stop is at the start of the line, the magnitude of special events near the stop and whether the stop is free or requires a paid fare.

The study computes urban density by looking at retail employment and households within a quarter-mile of each station. It does not, however, look at office population, which the study says does not play a major role in the four systems studied.

That's at least in part due to differing conditions between Downtown and the four other cities: the study notes that Portland has an employment density of 14,000 office jobs per square mile along the streetcar route, while the area along the system here would pass 40,000 workers per square mile. If those workers were to become regular streetcar riders, the ridership numbers would go up.

A similar question is faced when it comes to the planned frequency of service on the route, which is planned to run every seven minutes during peak times and every 10 to 15 minutes outside those periods. The study assumes that increased service will increase ridership, but accounting for that addition in the projected numbers requires going outside the model developed to fit the three existing systems.

As one might expect, ridership is also partially based on the price of a ticket. Models based on Metro's $1.50 fare range from 5,820 to 8,810 daily boardings, while models that assume a free fare increase those numbers by up to 57 percent.

Councilman Jose Huizar, who has pushed the streetcar as a major piece of his Bringing Back Broadway initiative, is pleased even with the study's most conservative numbers. “The positive results of this study on ridership reiterate what I’ve been saying all along: Angelenos are ready for the return of the Downtown Streetcar,” said Huizar on Tuesday in a release that touted the streetcar numbers as higher than opening month per mile ridership on Metro's Orange, Gold, Green and Blue lines.

The streetcar will be a major topic of the town hall forum Huizar's office is holding on Wednesday evening. That event will take place at the Orpheum Theatre (842 S. Broadway).

Draft Streetcar Ridership Study

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