Thursday, May 05, 2011

Daily Record Reports MTA Inflates Transit Ridership by 18 Million

The Daily Record reported that the Department of Legislative Services has found that MTA inflated bus ridership estimates by 18 million, or 26 percent, in 2009:

The MTA told the state it carried 69.8 million riders on its core bus routes in the year ended June 30, 2009. The number sent to the Federal Transit Database maintained by the Federal Transit Administration, however, was 87.8 million, or 26 percent more than the state figure.
If anything, the Department of Legislative Services may have been conservative in the size of the discrepancy in MTA's figures:
The state audit that outlined the reporting discrepancies said MTA collected $2.6 million in fares in fiscal 2009 for which no corresponding passengers were recorded. Owens said that is due to overpayments, because fare boxes cannot make change for riders.
The problems aren't limited to just bus counts:

Auditors also raised issues with passenger counts on the Metro line and MARC. They found 184,000 more passengers entered Metro stations than left them. MTA attributed that to times when the administration cannot staff stations, forcing them to open all fare gates to ensure that disabled riders can leave the station.

Daily passenger counts on MARC did not match totals for 24 of 40 days, according to the audit.

Transit advocates expressed concern that these problems may undermine efforts to bring the Purple Line, Red Line, and Corridor Cities Transitway to Maryland:
Michele Whelley, president and CEO of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, said undercounting riders could take away from advocates’ efforts to spur investment in mass transit, where bus routes play a crucial role in linking modes like MARC, light rail and the Metro.

“Accurate ridership counts are important in terms of transportation planning in terms of schedules, frequency of service and the opportunity to expand service based on demand,” Whelley said. “If the ridership numbers can justify increased service so that those connections are made, we should be reporting every rider who gets on a bus.”

MTA has justified the difference in the counts by stating that there are differences in the federal and state methodology. Except that FTA refuses to comment thus far. And MTA has categorically refused requests to explain how it calculates ridership estimates for submissions in the Environmental Impact Statements for the three big new big transit projects as it described the methodology as "proprietary."