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Light Rail Ridership Up Slightly in February; Metro Still Lagging in Releasing Fare Data

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Light rail ridership went up slightly in February, driven by an apparent increase in the number of commuters using the 20-mile system.

The estimated daily average of boardings in February was 32,430, higher than January's estimate of 29,415. Helping the system out was about 5,000 extra riders each weekday, according to a Metro news release (see below for text).

The crowds on Saturdays were about the same, but holiday and Sunday ridership saw a few thousand less riders.

Some readers took us to task for pointing out in a previous post that January's ridership figures were still far below capacity. True, no light rail system in the country saw its light rail trains packed in the first few months. However, the initial ridership numbers speak volumes about the short-term need and popularity of light rail. As in, this thing is a $1.4 billion luxury for now, but may come in handy in the future.

Missing from this latest news release is any information about fare collections -- as if people don't want to know. This is typical for any bureaucracy, naturally: Positive news gets advertised; sensitive information has to be yanked out in a separate request.

As we reported earlier this month in this blog, when you have fare info you can figure out interesting things like whether collections paid for the system's electric bill. (It did). Also, there's the question of whether the per-rider take is approaching Metro's goal of 84 cents. (The system collected an average of 69 cents per rider in January, its first full month of operations).

All told, the system logged an estimated 908,052 boardings last month. It seems reasonable to expect the numbers will improve further into spring before an anticipated drop-off in summer ridership.

Metro news release follows:

For immediate release

March 12, 2009

METRO ridership continues positive in February

PHOENIX -- For February 2009, METRO ridership totals 908,052 boardings, resulting in an average weekday ridership of 35,277, average Saturday ridership of 31,417 and average Sunday and holiday ridership of 19,212.

In January, METRO ridership totaled 911,883 boardings, resulting in an average weekday ridership of 30,617, average Saturday ridership of 31,331 and average Sunday and holiday ridership of 23,815.

METRO forecasted an annual average weekday ridership of 26,000 boardings in its first year. "We hope to exceed that projection by continuing to attract new transit users and maintaining our positive relationship with existing passengers," said METRO CEO Rick Simonetta.

METRO will continue to monitor ridership and report new totals on a monthly basis; numbers will be available by the middle of the subsequent month. Detailed reports of boardings by station and time of day will be available mid- to late-April for the first quarter 2009 and on a quarterly basis thereafter.

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