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2005 Development-Related Ridership Survey Final Report

Survey updated 1989 study that surveyed travel behavior of persons traveling to and from office, residential, hotel and retail sites near WMATA Metrorail stations

S.1 Study Purpose

The purpose of the 2005 Development Related Ridership Survey was to update a 16-year old study conducted by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) that surveyed the travel behavior of persons traveling to and from office, residential, hotel and retail sites near Metrorail stations. The 2005 effort sought to determine if modal splits for these land uses have changed over time and whether certain physical site characteristics still impact transit ridership. In 2005, 49 sites of the land uses listed above plus entertainment venues near 13 Metrorail stations participated in the study, which was designed to mimic the earlier efforts as a way to provide some context for comparison.

S.2 Background

In the 16 years since WMATA last surveyed development around its rail stations to determine how much transit ridership certain land uses generate when placed near rail stations, much has changed in the Washington metropolitan region in terms of population growth, the regional economy and the built environment. Given these changes, WMATA determined that the time was right to conduct a new survey, modeled on the 1989 survey, to evaluate whether this changed environment had affected modal splits at certain types of land uses in Metrorail station areas and to determine if certain physical attributes of these land uses impact transit ridership.

In 1989, stations were organized into three typologies: CBD location, Suburban-Inside the Beltway and Suburban-Outside the Beltway. The 2005 effort was designed to update these figures based on the changed environment and has generally organized data based upon the same typologies.

The 1989 study and an earlier 1987 study1 identified a set of statistical relationships between the distance at which a building (office, residential, retail or hotel) is sited from the rail station and the amount of transit ridership it generates. The 2005 effort aimed to assess to what degree these relationships were still valid and whether additional variables might also show a strong relationship with transit ridership. Some of the additional variables tested include: quality of the pedestrian environment; housing density in the station area; job density in the station area; attractiveness of automobile access; and the availability of transit subsidies.

As in the earlier studies, the 2005 survey targeted high-density commercial office and residential sites, retail and hotel sites, as well as a new use, “entertainment” (which for this study’s purposes was defined as movie theaters), as these are the types of land uses typically proposed in joint development projects. The 2005 study secured participation from 49 sites distributed as shown in Table S-1.

S.3 Summary of Findings

It is important to note that response rates varied considerably from site to site, and particularly with the office surveys. In addition to changes in the physical environment (e.g., greater urbanization in rail station areas, increasing suburbanization of outer jurisdictions) over the last 16 years, the region, like the rest of the nation and even the world, has experienced a change in attitude with respect to security (especially in light of the September 11, 2001, attacks) and to providing personal information to outside entities. The project team anticipated that potential respondents might be reluctant to answer the survey and that property managers might also refuse to allow survey efforts to be conducted at their locations.

These expectations seem to have been borne out in the low response rates at some buildings, offices in particular, as well as in the final number of sites agreeing to participate. For the most part, at office sites where there was a ‘champion’ from building management or on-site staff, response rates were fairly high. However, without the ‘insider assistance,’ response rates faltered. The project team also found a resistance on the residential side to the hand-delivery of survey forms, and on the office management side to even approaching tenants with survey forms. Lastly, the project team attempted to secure some federal participation at stations, but was unable to do so for a variety of reasons, namely security concerns. For these reasons, the 2005 effort faced a number of challenges that only performing the study could have revealed. In the end, the process itself yielded a wealth of information to be incorporated into subsequent study efforts.

Nonetheless, the information gleaned from these sites does provide a good look into the current state of travel at sites around rail stations and offer some explanation as to cause and effect. That said, there also is sufficient reason for additional, more targeted research to be conducted in certain areas to delve more deeply into the reasons for certain modal splits.

S.3.1 General Observations


  1. 2005 survey results confirmed previous findings that the walking distance between a site and the Metrorail station affects transit ridership (see Table S-2). In general, the closer a site is to the station, the greater likelihood those traveling to/from or within a site choose Metrorail as their travel mode. Based on the survey results, this relationship was stronger for residential sites than for office sites.
  2. In urban fringe or outlying locations, residential uses may be more reliable in boosting Metrorail ridership than office uses (see Table S-3). Based on the results of the survey, outlying office sites tended to produce trips connected with areas outside the core, which typically are not well served by transit.
  3. At the overall site level, survey results showed that high-density, mixed-use environments with good transit access generated higher shares of transit and walk trips—especially midday trips from and visitor trips to office sites, than those areas dominated by a single use.
  4. Metrorail continues to remain competitive with the automobile in markets where it provides good access and service and has increased its mode share in the core since 1989. In each surveyed land use category, those trips recorded to or from the District, the jurisdiction with the greatest number of rail stations and a comprehensive bus network, showed the highest rates of Metrorail and transit use.
  5. Overall, when compared to the results of the 1989 Survey, the 2005 results suggest that land uses surrounding Metrorail stations are supporting higher transit use than in 1989 (see Table S-4). For office sites, the overall average transit share among the sites was about 93 percent greater than the overall average transit share among the 1989 sites. For residential sites, transit shares appeared to have changed little.

S.3.2 Land Use Specifics

For each land use type, survey results were tabulated to display frequencies and regression analyses were performed to test the strength of relationships between transit ridership and certain independent variables. A summary of the frequency results follows:

Office (17 sites; 15 percent response rate)


  • 25 percent of all workplace survey respondents use Metrorail to commute to work.
  • 44 percent of District residents responding to the workplace survey used Metrorail to commute to work. This figure exceeds the auto mode share for District residents, which was 41 percent. District residents accounted for only 14 percent of all survey responses, but accounted for more than 25 percent of all Metrorail commute trips.
  • 16 percent of Arlington County residents responding to the workplace survey reported using the ‘walk or other’ mode to commute to and from work.
  • 76 percent of workplace survey respondents who have no vehicle at their disposal use transit to commute; 63 percent of those used Metrorail. 31 percent of single-vehicle households use transit to commute; 28 percent of those use Metrorail.
  • The sites with the highest midday Metrorail and walk trips are sites located in areas with a solid mix of office, retail and eating establishments.
  • Visitors to the 13 office sites that allowed interviews used Metrorail 15 percent of the time and used the ‘walk/other’ mode 22 percent of the time.
  • Office sites on the low end of the transit share scale in 2005 are located in areas with good auto access and ample parking. On the high end, survey results show that transit mode shares have grown in the inner areas—where traffic congestion is high, highway access limited and parking is constrained.

Residential (18 sites; 12 percent response rate)


  • On average, 45 percent of all trips from these sites used transit.
  • 55 percent of all work or school trips used Metrorail.
  • 67 percent of trips to the District were made on Metrorail.
  • 73 percent of zero-vehicle households and 42 percent of single-vehicle households used transit for their reported trips; 66 percent of zero-vehicle households and 40 percent of single-vehicle households used Metrorail as their travel mode.
  • Residents living in areas with comparatively higher density housing and dense street networks are less likely to use their car, and more likely to use transit and Metrorail.

Retail (5 sites)


  • 1,300 survey respondents.
  • 36 percent of retail site patron and employee respondents used transit to access the site; 28 percent of those used Metrorail.
  • 28 percent used the walk/other mode

Hotel (5 sites)


  • 167 survey respondents.
  • 35 percent of respondents used transit to access the site; 30 percent of those used Metrorail.

Entertainment (Movie Theaters) (4 sites)


  • 974 survey respondents
  • 28 percent used transit; 20 percent of those used Metrorail

S.4 Conclusions and Policy Considerations

The 2005 Development Related Ridership Survey effort provides a starting point for renewed efforts to analyze the travel characteristics of development around Metrorail stations. Despite some challenges related to privacy and security, this latest study provides a useful update to the past work, confirming some historic findings and pointing to some new findings regarding transit ridership. However, study findings also bring to light some areas where the process and data could be improved, and raise some questions as to the considerations and implications of WMATA joint development opportunities. These are presented below. That said, the base provided herein gives WMATA a place from which to determine its next steps.

S.4.1 Potential Study Improvements

Increased Sample Size – Greater Statistical Significance

The findings from this study should help guide WMATA decision-making with respect to its joint development program and overall station-area planning. However, given that the unit of analysis for this study is at the site level, the survey sample size is admittedly small. Collecting more detailed data for station areas throughout the WMATA system could result in effective increases in the sample size and could create a more robust data set. In particular, a program focusing on federal sites might prove useful as the region supports an extensive federal workforce, but this study was unable to attract specific federal participation.

Weekend Data

Local jurisdictions already have suggested that having weekend ridership data would be useful. There has been a noticeable increase in transit ridership on weekends. Collecting weekend station area transit use data could help WMATA assess the implications of increased weekend service on operations and service planning, maintenance programs and capital spending.

Parking Pricing

Additionally, this effort was unable to adequately address the issue of parking pricing as it relates to workplace transit ridership in Metrorail station areas, as so many variables must be evaluated. For example, at the site level, each employer ma y have a different parking subsidy policy; at the station level, parking of varying price levels, availability and distance may be available to employees. Research focusing on this issue may also add to the tools at WMATA’s disposal.

S.4.2 Questions Raised

Finally, the current study findings raise questions for WMATA with respect to a number of interesting and potentially important policy matters. For example, WMATA has significant unused capacity on outbound railcars in the peak-period. The system as a whole would benefit from increased utilization of this essentially “free” capacity, and office uses at suburban stations could help achieve this goal. To that end, there may be public policy benefits to encouraging office development at suburban rail stations as a complement to residential development, striking a balance between uses. The question raised is, what steps must be taken to raise the transit mode share for transit-proximate office space in suburban settings? More detailed survey information linked to site design and transit use characteristics of different office labor markets (e.g., federal, IT, financial services, biotechnology, back-office support, etc.) could help WMATA and others better understand the implications and opportunities presented by alternative development scenarios, and what steps could be taken to raise transit mode shares in suburban office settings.

Additionally, the 2005 Development Related Ridership Survey data continue to point to the question of how WMATA best meets the access needs of those residents who wish to use Metrorail but are located in outlying or low-density areas, while maximizing the use of its station areas. For example, can bus service improvements, car-sharing arrangements or bicycle facility enhancements offer alternatives to those who currently drive to a rail station, freeing up some demand for parking? Additional research could tease out the variety of reasons why some Metrorail riders drive to stations and begin to classify those reasons and address them through targeted planning efforts.

These and other questions merit additional research and analysis. It is possible that WMATA's ongoing planning work program could provide opportunities to incrementally address these and related questions. Refinements and supplements to the findings from this study will be presented as they are developed through this work program.