Who uses DC Metrorail?: A Look at #Metromaggedon

Last month, the D.C. Metrorail closed down for 29 hours so an inspection of the subway system could be competed following a fire. Approximately 712,000 riders utilize the Metrorail system daily, including around 400,000 commuters. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced the shutdown fifteen hours in advance leaving individuals with a short window of time to arrange for alternative commute plans.

While a prudent public safety decision, the shutdown adversely affected lower-income communities of color. According to 2010-2012 American Community Survey estimates, public transportation commuters make $0.89 per every dollar the median D.C. commuter makes. While 5.8% of all commuters live below the poverty line, 6.8% of public transportation commuters do. Additionally, while 47% of all commuters in D.C. identify as white (non-Hispanic), only 43% of public transportation commuters do.

As Chelsea Kiene explained on her Huffington Post blog, not all public transportation commuters have convenient access to alternative commute options. Data shows the income disparities that exist along Metrorail lines. According to a 2012 Metrorail ridership survey, riders who enter the system at the Anacostia, Congress Heights, Minnesota Ave. and Benning Road stations have the lowest incomes. While there is no direct correlation between number of station entries and average rider income at each station, low-income commuters are still more likely to rely on often unreliable buses in comparison to higher-income public transportation commuters and commuters in general.

Average DC Metrorail Rider Income by Entry Station
Source: Tableau

When asked if future preventative system shutdowns were probable, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld simply responded, “I hope not.” While such prudent public safety decisions are responsible, though unpopular, there are still significant equity issues around them that must be considered.
Bithia Ratnasamy

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