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Metro says Expo Line is drawing riders who used to commute by car

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But most don’t ride that often

Since it began traveling to Santa Monica in May, Metro’s Expo Line has attracted enough riders to create overcrowding problems the transit agency is now rushing to address. Meanwhile, a new report from Metro shows just how many of those riders are new to the freshly extended light rail line, which used to end in Culver City.

According to Metro's user surveys, almost 70 percent of Expo Line riders at the route’s new stops were not regular users of the train prior to the opening of the extension to Santa Monica. Of those new riders, more than half would have previously made the trip by car, with 44 percent driving solo and eight percent carpooling. Another six percent said they would have traveled by taxi or ride-hailing service.

Those numbers are encouraging, given Metro’s somewhat controversial assertion that its current and future rail projects are getting drivers off the road, thus helping to ease traffic. The transit agency is clearly depending on LA County voters buying that argument this November, when they will decide on whether to approve a half-cent sales tax bump to pay for future transit projects.

The results of the survey certainly helps Metro’s case, though it does seem like they were at least partially engineered to do just that. For one thing, the data suggesting 70 percent of riders are new to the line was collected at the most recently opened stations, where it stands to reason more new riders are likely to be found.

The survey also defines new Expo Line riders as those who did not ride the line three or more times weekly prior to the extension—thus discounting most casual users. Yet the survey imposes no such limits on what constitutes a current user. In fact, about half of the "new riders" polled at the Culver City station board the train less than twice a week.

Flawed as the survey data might be, ridership numbers since the extension opened are quite impressive. Average weekday ridership on the Expo Line jumped from a hair over 29,000 in April to a peak of 45,876 in June. And while weekday ridership has dropped off slightly since then, Saturday ridership increased to its highest level ever in August. Sunday ridership, meanwhile, more than doubled between April and May.

To relieve overcrowding problems, Metro is looking to increase the frequency of train arrivals to once every six minutes at peak hours. This improved service is currently slated to arrive in December.