Hamilton LRT Ridership

Current Ridership

The decision to build higher order transit like a BRT or LRT in Hamilton should typically be driven by one or both of two factors.  Regularly exceeding available ridership capacity on a transit line and excessive congestion along a particular roadway.  This page will look at the projected Hamilton LRT Ridership and compare it to other systems already in operation.

The number used to determine this is the Peak Time / Peak Direction number of riders.  Obviously you try and build a system that can accommodate your riders during this time and will have excess capacity outside of this time period.  This is not unlike road construction where we’ll see a highway very lightly used at 4am but jam packed at 4pm.

The number of riders on Main King corridor now is around 1100 riders peak time peak direction.  This number is often confused with the B-Line ridership numbers which are only a part of the total numbers.  The numbers as of March 2016 (the most recent month where ridership was counted) for passengers on the B-Line was provided a short time ago.  The chart itself is below.

Hamilton HSR B-Line ridership as of March 2016

A scan of a chart provided by David Dixon the City’s Director of Transit shows the current ridership on the B-Line  The chart shows the current peak ridership peak direction is 444 passengers.

While the current B-Line stops and the proposed LRT stops do not line up exactly in all places their proposed distance apart are similar.  Stops on the B-Line (and the proposed LRT) are substantially farther apart than the current local bus service.

Riders are currently choosing to take the local bus service more often than the express B-Line service as there are more stops along the route which means people don’t have to walk as far to get to a stop.

When Will The Time Be Right?

In the case of Hamilton’s proposed LRT our Director of Transit provided a presentation during the 2015 budget process showing that we do not presently have the ridership that our transit department tells us we need to justify LRT.

The chart indicates best practices about when to move transit into its own dedicated right-of-way  suggesting that should occur around the 8000 passenger peak time peak direction mark.  Hamilton is presently at 444 on the B-Line and around 1100 for the whole corridor including local buses.  Regardless of the number you focus on we are still far below the threshold for higher order transit.

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A slide from the 2015 Public Works budget presentation showing when various types of Higher Order Transit are warranted.

Source: Public Works Presentation February 6, 2015

The video below is from the 2015 budget presentation by David Dixon our then Director of Transit.  On the question of when to move to higher order transit he states:

“When you look at when you initially move into higher order transit about the 2000 mark.  If you think about a bus that holds roughly 50 people that means when you get around 2000 you’ve got 40 buses on the road that means you’re running about a minute and a half headway.  In actual fact you’d probably go to artic [sic] buses so you’re down around a 2 minute headway and frankly you can’t run a good efficient reliable service at a 2 minute headway and that’s what forces you into a train like service.”

David Dixon
Hamilton Director of Transit
GIC Budget Meeting February 6, 2015
Source: The Public Record

Prior to David Dixon joining the City as Director of Transit our former Director Don Hull expressed similar statements stating the ridership on the corridor do not yet warrant higher order transit.


City of Hamilton

10 Year Transit Plan (2015)

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TRK Index

In the spring of 2012 the McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics provided a detailed study to the City of Hamilton entitled The North American Light Rail Experience.  The study was authored by Christopher Higgins and Mark Ferguson and was submitted to the city April of 2012.  The study, which will be referred to many times throughout this micro-site covered many areas of concern for the City of Hamilton and highlighted both best practices and demonstrated comparative systems throughout North America.

The study makes use a formula to calculate a statistic to help compare systems.  The statistic is calculated as thousands of total weekday trips per route kilometre (TRK).  Where TRK=1.0 = 1000 weekday trips per kilometre.

Using that formula we can estimate the TRK score for the City of Hamilton using the current B-Line ridership numbers.  We will use only the 11 km route length and the current (as of March 2016) B-Line ridership numbers of 5595.  This is both the eastbound and westbound number.

5595 (Weekday Riders) / 11 (KM proposed LRT = 509 (rounded up).  So TRK for Hamilton’s proposed LRT is .509.  An interesting aside the TRK number would be slightly higher if the route did not take the King St detour which adds about 600 meters to the route length.

The study compared  26 systems throughout North America and displayed them in an easy to read table.  Hamilton’s proposed system was not listed in the table.

A comparison of 26 light rail systems throughout North America compiled by McMaster Institute of Transportation and Logistics

If Hamilton’s proposed LRT were included in this list of 26 Cities we would be in 25th place out of a total of 27 comparative cities.  This information was never presented to Council nor was it included in Rapid Ready or the benefits case that was submitted to Metrolinx.

It is important to note that the number we are using is the CURRENT B-Line ridership number.  We are excluding the local bus service numbers from this calculation as the local bus service is not being discontinued when the LRT is installed.  The City does not currently have ridership projections for the LRT.  These are expected to be delivered this summer.  The page will be updated to include those numbers sometime after they are made available.

McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics

The North American Light Rail Experience (2012)

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Ridership on other LRTs

IBI looked at other LRT systems built in several US cities to attempt to demonstrate jurisdictions where ridership exceeded expectations.

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This table however excluded a much larger list of projects that missed their ridership forecasts by a significant margin.  This information was communicated to the City by Christopher Higgins a researcher at the McMaster Institute for Transportation & Logistics.  In his report to the City he cautioned:

“…several previous studies have noted that the decision to build many light rail systems in the United States was based on overestimated levels of ridership that were subsequently not achieved after opening.”
Christopher Higgins
McMaster Institute for Transportation & Logistics
The North American Light Rail Experience: Insights for Hamilton

He goes on to say that Canadian models however have shown higher cost effectiveness.  This page is about the ridership issue and details on costs will be covered on other pages.

IBI for the City of Hamilton

Economic Potential Study (2009)

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Ridership – Forecast vs Actual in the United States

The United States Federal Transportation commissioned two studies.  One was released October of 1989 and looked at both heavy and light rail projects in Washington, Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Portland, Sacramento, Miami and Detroit.  The projects were built during the late seventies to the late eighties.  Dollars have been adjusted (by the FTA) to 1988 dollars for comparison.

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Urban Rail Transit Projects: Forecast Versus Actual Ridership and Costs
Prepared by: Transportation System Center – US Department of Transportation – Dr Don Pickrell
October 1989

The heavy rail project in Atlanta exceeded its forecasted ridership numbers by 8% with the next closest system being Washington which was off by 12%.  The remaining systems however missed their forecasts by between 49 and 74%.

US Federal Transportation Administration

Urban Rail Transit Projects: Forecast Vs Actual Ridership and Costs (1989)

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The Federal Transit Administration did a follow up to this report in 2007 looking at systems constructed in the 90s to the early 00s.  It found that projects had improved both their ridership forecasting as well as their budgeting but stated:

“… analyses by FTA have documented the fact that the majority of rail transit projects have significantly underestimated their construction costs and overestimated the actual ridership….”
Contractor Performance Assessment Report
United States Federal Transit Administration
September 2007

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A chart showing forecast ridership vs actual achieved ridership on rapid transit projects that received federal funding in the US.

The above chart shows the only three projects met or exceeded their FEIS ridership forecasts.  If we pay special attention to the St Louis St Clair extention we see that the ridership forecast was actually doubled between the initial DEIS phase and the FEIS phase.  If we we use the FEIS numbers vs the DEIS numbers only two lines met or exceeded their ridership projections.

Nine of the nineteen studied transit lines were significantly off in their estimations by between 40 – 94%.

US Federal Transit Authority

Contractor Performance Assessment Report (2007)

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Loss of Ridership in Portland

Portland Oregon is often cited as an example for transit systems in North America but a closer look at the actual ridership in Oregon points to some disturbing trends in ridership.  Trimet (Portland’s Transit Agency) that operates both Bus and the MAX (Light Rail) service have provided ridership information showing that while Portland increased the size of their rail network between 2000 and 2015 the actual ridership numbers have been slipping.

TriMet Average Weekday Boarding Rides 2005 – 2015 – Note Top line is Bus, Second Line is LRT, Third line is Commuter Rail.

The drop in numbers is surprising as TriMet actually added three new LRT lines to this system between 2004 – 2015.  This includes a total of 25 new stations covering a distance of 25.1 kilometres at a cost of over $2.4 billion USD.  This seems to work counter to the argument that: “If you build it they will come”.


Service and Ridership Information (2015)

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The Growth in Ride Sharing

The Portland Bureau of Transportation recently released a study showing the growth rate of Uber and Lyft.  The report showed the ride sharing services growth rate of 125% between May and August 2015.  This increase however only resulted in a 16% drop in traditional taxi passenger trips.  The remaining passengers were switching from other modes of transportation and actually grew the overall personal shared transportation market.

portland - uber vs taxi ridership

As TNC passengers increased traditional taxi rides saw a decrease, but the overall market has grown. This ocurred at the same time as transit ridership continues to drift downwards in Portland.

You can read the entire report by clicking here or on the link to the right, or you can read a summary of the report by a blogger here.

Portland Bureau of Transportation

Portland’s Private for-Hire Transportation Market: Summary Report of the PFHT Innovation Pilot Program (2015)

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Proposed LRT Ridership

At the moment the only proposed numbers the City has are those contained in Rapid Ready suggesting an opening day ridership figure of between 1000 and 2000 peak direction peak riders.  The 2000 number however stands in stark contrast from the forecasts that appeared in the IBI report.

Achieving a number of 1000 would represent about a 225% increase in ridership from our present B-Line riders.

Achieving a number of 2000 would represent an increase of a little over 450%.  There is a curious and unattributed ridership estimate for 2031 putting potential ridership at 4500.  This would represent an increase of over 1000%.  These numbers seem overly optimistic.

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Rapid Ready 2013 Report
City of Hamilton

In 2009 the City contracted the firm of IBI to perform an Economic Potential Study on a possible LRT on the B-Line.  IBI referenced the City’s earlier Rapid Transit Feasibility Study by estimating ridership COULD rise to 1,800 passengers peak direction peak hour by 2031. (Page E-8)  This is far from the 8,000 suggested by our transit staff of when a dedicated right of way might be needed and is still off by 200 peak passengers from Rapid Ready’s 2000 launch day passenger estimate.

During a recent meeting between myself, a member of my staff and the LRT project team at the LRT offices I again asked the question about ridership.  With the route now being shorter than the route proposed in Rapid Ready a new consultant has been hired to update the ridership projections.  While they did not tell us what the new numbers would be, they did say they would be lower than those proposed in Rapid Ready.

A recent email from our LRT Project Manager informs my office that we should see these numbers in a report this summer.  We’ll post that here once we have those and update accordingly.

City of Hamilton

Rapid Ready (2013)

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