Reason Foundation researchers make fools of themselves
--2030 forecast critiqued against ridership 3-4 days after start of revenue service--
We would not blame readers for thinking, even for a moment, that the above is a belated April Fool's Day gag. It is not. Reason Foundation researchers Tim Cavanaugh and Scott Shackleford did indeed critique the 2030 ridership forecast for the new LRT Expo Line in Los Angeles against ridership observed on Days 3 and 4 of revenue operation (New Light Rail Ridership Falls Short by More Than Half, May 5, 2012).
We would not blame readers (. . . those of who you who remain . . .) for shaking their heads and mumbling, "What kind of 'ultra-maroons' would do such a thing?"
Very simply: those obsessed with the pursuit of truthiness, justice and the American way. With heavy emphasis on "truthiness." More on that in a moment.
Phase 1 of the Expo Line extends from a junction at Washington Boulevard and Flower Streets (a location we have dubbed "Trade-Tech Junction" 1), southward and westward to Culver City station, 14.0 km / 8.7 mi. The segment from "Trade-Tech Junction" to La Cienega opened on April 30, 2012. The remainder, La Cienega – Culver City and an additional station, Farmdale, opened on June 20, 2012 2. Phase 2 will extend from Culver City westward to Colorado / 4th Street terminal in Santa Monica 10.6 km / 6.6 mi, with six intermediate stations. Opening is planned for 2016.
The Reason Foundation is one of those Libertarian "crib clubs" - er, pardon mois, "free-market think tanks" - that are veritable dispensaries of "truthiness" - defined (by Merriam-Webster Online) as:
The quality of stating what one wishes or feels to be true instead of what is actually true.
Thus, the article in question is not about what is true, or what might be true - it's about what Cavanaugh and Shackleford want to be true. Never mind the facts.
Cavanaugh and Shackleford conducted their observations on Wednesday, May 2 and Thursday, May 3 - on the third and fourth day of revenue service, with two Phase 1 stations unopened (this took place, as noted above, on June 20). They estimated that the line was then carrying "no more than 13,000 people a day." They contrast this with the forecast of 64,000 passengers per weekday, by 2030. Well . . .
1.) The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) reported an average of 16,569 Expo Line boardings per weekday during June. This we find significant because two stations - Farmdale and Culver City - were not opened until June 20.
Annual average weekday ridership carried by LRT Gold Line increased at an (annual compound) rate of about seven percent during the first five years of operation. Applying this to the initial Expo Line result, we estimate that the line - as it exists, today - would carry about 24,000 boardings per weekday after five years of operation3. This, of course, assumes that Expo Line ridership grows at the same rate as Gold Line ridership did (seven percent per year, compounded).
2.) The 2030 forecast of 64,000 passengers per weekday does not apply to Phase 1 - as Cavanaugh and Shackleford imply - but to the completed line.
3.) Cavanaugh and Shackleford state that the forecast described above appears to have been "extrapolated from MTA [Metro] claims."
Our quick response: Huh?
The linked document in the Reason paper is a Final Environmental Impact Report document titled Final Ridership Results Version 0.4. This was prepared for the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority, which built the line.
We note - with interest - that the 2015 forecast for the completed line (alternative LRT-2) - minus the additional ridership carried by Phase 2 - is less than 21,000 per weekday. Opening of Phase 2 is projected to increase average weekday boardings to nearly 49,000.
We note - with greater interest - that this ridership would reach the forecast level, given an average annual rate of less than two percent, compounded. That's over a 15-year interval.
Cavanaugh and Shackleford have made fools of themselves - although this fact will not become glaringly obvious for a few years yet. It might lead to significant embarrassment if they were concerned with facts - but we think their primary concern is something else - truthiness. By the time Expo Line ridership reaches 64,000 boardings per weekday, we have no doubt that Cavanaugh and Shackleford will be looking for fun and feeling truthy on some other topic.
 
References:
Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority, Exposition Corridor Transit Project Phase 2, Final Environmental Impact Report, Technical Background Report. Final Ridership Results Version 0.4. December 2009. (Prepared for Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority, by AECOM).
New Light Rail Ridership Falls Short by More Than Half. By Tim Cavanaugh and Scott Shackleford. Reason.com, May 5, 2012.
 
For Further Reading:
 
1 The location is at the north corner of the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, which is known among Angelenos as "Trade-Tech."
2 Stated opening dates are those on which revenue service began, e.g. the dates on which fares were first charged.
3 The current Metro forecast is a (monthly) average of 27,000 boardings per weekday, after one year of operation.