Regression model ridership forecasts for Houston light rail
The 4-step process has been the standard procedure for transit forecasting for over 50 years. In recent decades, researchers have developed ridership forecasting regression models as alternatives to the costly and time consuming 4-step process. The model created by Lane, DiCarlantonio, and Usvyat in 2006 is among the most recent and most widely accepted. It includes station area demographics, central business district (CBD) employment, and the station areas’ built environments to estimate ridership.
This report applies the Lane, DiCarlantonio, and Usvyat model to the North Line of Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO). The report compares the 2030 ridership forecast created by METRO using the 4-step process with the LDU model forecasts.
For the 2030 projections, this report obtained population and employment estimates from the Houston-Galveston Area Council and analyzed the data using Esri ArcMap and Caliper TRANSCadGIS software programs.
The LDU model produced unrealistically high ridership numbers for the North Line. It estimated 108,430,481 daily boardings. METRO’s 4-step process predicted 29,900 daily boardings. The results suggest that the LDU model is not applicable to the Houston light rail system and is not a viable alternative to the 4-step process for this specific metropolitan area.
The LDU method for defining Houston’s CBD was the main problem in applying the model. It calculated an extremely high CBD employment density compared to other cities of similar size. Even when the CBD size was manipulated to decrease employment density, the model still predicted 212,210 daily boardings for the North Line, nearly 10 times higher than METRO’s 4-step process estimate.
In addition to the problems with the definition of the CBD, the creators of the LU model did not specifically explain how to define a metropolitan area. Multiple inconsistent and subjective definitions of a metro area can be used. This report employs three different definitions of the Houston metro, all of which produced three significantly different ridership forecasts in the LDU model.
As a result of these flaws, the LDU model does not accurately apply to METRO’s North Line, and it does not serve as a viable alternative to METRO’s 4-step process.