Chart of the Day: US LRT Lines by Expected v. Actual Ridership

Here’s a cool chart shared on Twitter by a researcher at the Manhattan Institute, showing expected v. actual ridership numbers for different light rail lines around the country.

Light Rail Ridership Chart

I am one of the people that always assumes transit planners low-ball the ridership predictions, so that they can announce (often right away) that the new transit line is exceeding expectations. But while that always happens in the Twin cities, apparently that’s not always the case around the rest of the country (e.g. Denver, San Jose). It’s nice to see that MSP light rail is at top of the heap, just behind Seattle, when it comes to national rail transit performance.

Good work!

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8 Responses to Chart of the Day: US LRT Lines by Expected v. Actual Ridership

  1. Alex Schieferdecker
    Alex Schieferdecker December 4, 2019 at 7:42 pm #

    Denver’s R Line has been a complete disaster, doesn’t surprise me. When the Green Line is extended, there’s a good chance that MSP outright passes Denver in ridership despite having nearly half the track miles.

    • Nick M December 5, 2019 at 7:23 am #

      This. I travel to Denver frequently (writing as I’m on the blue line to MSP to go there today) and I do not understand why so many people from MSP hold up Denver as a peer that we should aspire to mimic. The R line isn’t their only disaster, it’s just the most visible. My coworkers based there all hate taking transit (but many do it anyway) because it’s just so inefficient. A couple even share the quip that RTD stands for “Reason to Drive”. And have you seen their local fare? 😰😰😰

      • Alex Schieferdecker
        Alex Schieferdecker December 5, 2019 at 8:47 am #

        A lot of people look at Denver with envy because they passed a massive transit levy, then actually executed it by building a lot of lines quickly. But of course, in order to do that, they compromised at every step of the way on the quality of those lines, especially in station location.

        Denver has stops that are on the wrong side of major highways from job centers, stops that are inaccessible from neighborhoods directly next door because they let the neighborhood build a wall, stops that serve nothing at all, etc. etc. etc.

        What’s funny is that their commuter rail is far better.

  2. Mark December 4, 2019 at 9:48 pm #

    Meanwhile San Fran is so far ahead of Seattle (and MSP) that it’s barely clinging to the chart

    • Alex Schieferdecker
      Alex Schieferdecker December 5, 2019 at 8:48 am #

      Their light rail was build in the early 1900’s and (unlike Philadelphia) their number doesn’t include a couple really low frequency/low density lines)

  3. Mike December 9, 2019 at 1:47 pm #

    Question – when are these projections made vs the date of service? It’s not unusual for large projects to update their estimates as they progress so when were the predicted X axis values calculated – the initial proposal, at the time of construction….. and were there in fact any meaningful changes along the way?

  4. Ryan Heath December 9, 2019 at 5:09 pm #

    I took a look at the original tweet. The predicted values are actually just calculated from a few variables such as job density. It’s not the pre-revenue ridership expectation.

    The conclusion, though, I think it largely unchanged: MSP performs like it “should” or above where is “should” based on the math and cities like Denver perform poorly.

    • Ryan Heath December 9, 2019 at 5:10 pm #

      Should have clarified—it’s not the pre-revenue service ridership projection.

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