The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA, or "Metro" to locals) has opened the first 0.8 mile segment of its planned 5-mile "premium transit service" between the Braddock Road Metro station in Alexandria and the Crystal City Metro station in Arlington.
What are the economics of this new service?
According to Washington Post reporter Luz Lazo, the City of Alexandria and Arlington County are sharing the $42.3 million construction cost for the dedicated busway.
Amortizing over 10 years at 3%, the capital cost is about $13,414 per day. Project managers forecast 3,570 daily riders by 2017, so the amortized cost would be $3.76 per ride. (If the ridership projection applies only to weekdays, the average daily ridership would be 2,550 and amortized cost would be $5.26 per ride.
Metro reports that the Metroway fare will be $1.75 per ride. This covers 47% and 33% of the capital costs, assuming 3,570 riders 7-days per week or 5-days per week, respectively. None of the operation and maintenance costs are covered.
Metro reports that the Federal Transit Agency contributed "over $14 million" in federal funds to Alexandria's $21 million share, or at least two-thirds of the total. If federal funds underwrite Arlington's share at the same rate, then the local taxpayer cost per ride declines to $1.75 or $1.25 per ride, depending on whether the ridership forecast is a 7- or 5-day average.
It is therefore possible that the Metroway makes economic sense from a narrowly defined local taxpayer perspective. Of course, many projects appear to make economic sense if someone else is paying for them.
UPDATE: August 27, 2014
The Metroway schedule shows 91 northbound trips Monday through Friday, 53 trips Saturdays, and 44 trips Sundays. Dividing the estimated number of daily riders in 2017 (3,570) by 91 x 2 trips yields 19.6 riders per trip. The BRT-42 hybrid electric bus that will be used has 39 seats. Leaving aside 24 potential standees, on average each bus is projected to be half full.