Wed, Jun

Unveiling the Black Box: Demystifying Metro's Dubious Ridership Analysis Assumptions


[This is the ninth article in a series examining whether Metro can be a trusted steward for the Sepulveda Pass Transit project.]

SEPULVEDA PASS TRANSIT - The nineteenth of my 20 questions to Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins asked: “What exact assumptions do Metro and its contractors use for STCP ridership analysis that appear to result in unreasonable ridership differences between monorails and subways?

Metro’s answer was typically nonresponsive and unacceptable: “At the fall 2023 community meetings, Metro discussed the assumptions that go into its Federal Transit Administration-approved model used to develop ridership estimates. Those assumptions include travel time, proximity to population and jobs, the number of transfers people need to make to get to their destination, and more.” My question asked for the “exact assumptions” used in the ridership analysis, not the generic types of assumptions. Metro’s model may be “government-approved” but there’s no transparency or approval for the assumptions Metro uses in the model. The public needs to understand these assumptions because it’s easy to fudge them and get any result you want – reality or nonsense.

Metro’s ridership analysis results are nonsense. The results claim that monorail alternatives without an on-campus UCLA station will have 40% to 45% lower ridership than monorails or subways with an on-campus station. The only way this happens is Metro assuming that more than half of UCLA students won’t ride unless there is an on-campus station. That’s not reality.

Today, there is no north-south rapid transit to UCLA. There is a slow bus over the Sepulveda Pass from the Valley, but most students are forced to drive. A subway or monorail, whether it has an on-campus station or requires transfer to a bus or automated people mover (APM) to reach campus, will take a quarter of the time, have much lower cost, and require no parking. Students feel entitled to the fastest, most direct connection possible. I have heard many say that they won’t take transit without an on-campus station. Let’s be honest – students will flock to rapid transit. But Metro’s ridership analysis says they won’t. That’s why I asked for the exact assumptions Metro is using.

The idea of taking an Automated People Mover a short distance from a transit station to your destination is already being done for all Metro’s transit lines to LAX. The C (Green) and K (Crenshaw) lines will take you to the LAX/Metro Transit Center about two miles from LAX. From there, everyone takes an APM that is now under construction. When the Sepulveda Pass transit project finally connects to LAX in 2055, it will connect to the same station and people mover. I don’t understand how this can be good enough for LAX but not good enough for UCLA – especially when it could save taxpayers $20 billion or more to have no UCLA on-campus station.

So, when you hear Metro claim that one type of rapid transit has twice the ridership of another, ask for their specific assumptions. Also ask for the transit’s passenger capacity. Passenger capacity is the maximum number of people that the transit can carry each hour in one direction. It’s a simple calculation and not easily fudged, unlike ridership analysis. Metro has conveniently never told the public that the monorail concepts they’re developing have 35% higher passenger capacity than the subways, even though monorail trips take a little longer. I would rather have more passengers able to ride than believe some hocus-pocus ridership analysis that Metro hides behind.

(Bob Anderson is a nuclear engineer with 50 years engineering and business development expertise in the aerospace and high-technology sectors. He is VP and Transportation Committee Chair of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. Contact him at [email protected].)

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