For the Issue 3, 2021 issue of RIDE, we asked Operations and Communications Administrator Paul Rink to explain current trends in VRE ridership and describe how VRE is handling social distancing. Listen to the interview or read about the trends and train utilization below.
Q: Tell us about what we're seeing with ridership trends.
A: So prior to COVID, we were carrying upwards of 20,000+ passengers per day and once once the shutdown occurred, we saw an immediate decline to about 1,500 riders per day. That remained fairly steady for the year between March 2020 and March 2021. Then in April, we started to see a significant uptick in ridership to where we were running, maybe 1,500 people a day to now we're seeing upwards of 1,800 people riding per day. The trend is still going up.
Q: Tell us about what people can expect for social distancing on VRE trains.
A: Well, to begin with, the platforms have been marked with circles that are six feet apart so you have a visual cue as to where you can stand if there are people around you. We're asking everybody to maintain that social distancing for as long as it's possible to do so. Once on the train, we've also marked seats that we're asking people not to sit in so that while on the train, people can remain socially distanced. With the current ridership that we're seeing, most trains are well below 50% capacity to maintain social distancing. So even with the decals on the cars, people are able to maintain much greater than six-foot distance between each other at this point.
Q: Tell us about how you’re monitoring ridership to plan for social distancing.
A: Each day we're recording how many riders we have. The conductors do a passenger count every day and they've always done this, but it's received more focus since since the pandemic has affected ridership so deeply. Each day, I enter the the totals into a spreadsheet and on a weekly basis we take those numbers and post them on the VRE website so that passengers can see what trains most riders are utilizing at this time. So, it's up-to-date and we're watching the trends, and that's how we're able to tell which trains have more people on them versus ones that have more open seats available.
Q: Tell us how to access the capacity information on the website.
A: You go to vre.org. You'll see along the top banner there's a service information tab if you hover over that, it'll bring up another menu and the second from the right is train utilization and you can just select passenger utilization trends. That will bring up the graphic charts that show how many people are riding each train northbound southbound for each line.
Q: Tell us how to interpret the capacity information for trip planning.
A: For trip planning purposes, if you have flexibility in the times that you can travel, you can take a look at these charts and see that that there are some trains that have significantly more riders than others. On the Fredericksburg Line for instance, in the morning train 300 is carrying about 35% of capacity which maintains social distancing, whereas 302 is only a little above 25%. So if you're looking for an early morning trip and you're trying to maintain better spacing social distancing, 302 would be a little bit better choice than 300.
Q: With this chart, what does it mean to be at 100%? Is social distancing still possible?
A: From that standpoint on this chart, it's based on maintaining social distance, so we've just we don't count the seats that have the "do not sit" sticker on them. So 100% on this chart would mean we are at capacity to maintain social distancing. Once we do return to full schedule, we'll have to see which trains receive more ridership because right now with the schedule we run, people don't have a whole lot of flexibility in which train they can take. Once we go back to full schedule, you'll probably see people shifting one train or another and and you can come back to these charts and see with that greater flexibility which trains are carrying fewer people on average.