ARTIC Ridership Continues to Fall Far Below Projections

Adam Elmahrek/Voice of OC

The new Anaheim train station, known as ARTIC, lit up at night.

Ridership at Anaheim’s expensive new transit hub, ARTIC, continues to fall far below the city’s projections of up to 3,000 daily train boardings, with an average of just over 800 in the first two months of 2015, according to the latest figures from the Orange County Transportation Authority.

Meanwhile, ARTIC has run into a $2 million deficit this fiscal year, forcing city officials to consider transferring a general fund surplus toward costs associated with the transit hub.

And unless city officials figure out how to bring in more revenue for the facility, that shortfall could double in the next fiscal year and drain the city’s general fund of money that could be used for parks, libraries, infrastructure improvements, and other essential city services.

The city also dipped into funds designated for street maintenance to pay for buying the land for ARTIC while going into debt to initiate a $9.3 million street repairs project. Total payments over 30 years, with interest, will be double the original amount borrowed.

City and Transportation Authority officials point out that the figures only represent train boardings, which don’t count passengers that arrive at ARTIC and users of other transit services, like taxis and resort shuttles.

Anaheim spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz said the city will hire a consultant to count the total number of people using the facility during its first six months. She also reiterated the city’s message that ARTIC is intended to serve riders decades into the future and that the facility is part of the long-term plan to reduce dependence on cars.

“ARTIC was built to accommodate not just current use, but future use,” Ruiz said. “You look at transportation now, the freeways are quite full, there’s nowhere to build out.”

Yet when Anaheim officials sold the public on ARTIC’s $185-million price tag, they said the glittery new addition to the city’s architectural landscape would attract 10,000 riders daily using various transit services by its opening day. City officials later said “opening day” actually meant first year.

That estimate, based on a 2009 study done by Los Angeles-based Cordoba Corp., included nearly 3,000 daily Metrolink and Amtrak boardings.

But by the end of December 2014, ARTIC’s first month of operation, it became clear the estimates were way off the mark. There were only 760 average daily train boardings in Anaheim that month. 

ARTIC projected ridership vs. actualTransportation Authority officials said December typically sees lower ridership than the rest of the year. But average daily train boardings only climbed by 52 riders in January and another 14 in February, the figures show.

ARTIC was built on the premise that it would be the southernmost terminus for the state’s proposed high-speed rail line. Critics say the timing of the transit hub is dubious because high-speed rail by most estimates won’t reach Anaheim for a generation, and perhaps never.

Meanwhile, a proposed city streetcar line is also looking increasingly unlikely, with federal officials cool to the idea of funding the project and open skepticism from several Transportation Authority board members.

Local transit leaders critical of the ARTIC project had said they weren’t surprised by the low ridership numbers for December, and that the project was oversold from the start.

Upon hearing news of the latest figures, Jeffrey Lalloway, the Transportation Authority’s board chairman and critic of ARTIC, indicated he wasn’t surprised by the ridership numbers, but is nonetheless chagrined by how far off  the mark they’ve been.

“I’m extremely disappointed that the ridership numbers again have come in well below projections,” Lalloway said, adding that he’s “dubious that we’ll ever reach the projected ridership numbers without the connection to high speed rail.”

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  • Nate Ryan

    Being a frequent visitor of the ARTIC and frequent train rider, one major problem is the fact that our rail system is not efficient. You can’t get a Metrolink past 530, and if you miss that you pay double the prices to ride Amtrak. Even with monthly passes that are offered, the benefits of taking your car far outweighs the benefits of taking the train.

    There is also no incentive to spend anytime there. The building is pretty, but it’s nothing but empty space that can be rented out and ticket booths that are hardly staffed. I actually think this could have potential, but unless major changes take place, this will continually lose money year after year.

    • David Zenger

      Nate, the problem (of course) is economics. Trains after 5:30 would be empty or Metrolink would no doubt be running them.

      As to the building being pretty, well, degustibus non est disputandum.

      As to potential, some have suggested a year-round homeless shelter within those empty, cavernous spaces. The place is warm and well-lighted.

      P.S. in six months or so you will have to start paying to park go get ready for that financial disincentive.

  • Paul Lucas

    I think the OC GOP would do well to place an embargo on Kurt Pringle and everything he touches and everyone he associates with.

    • David Zenger

      This already has happened at the grass roots level of the Central Committee, however many of the electeds have their own irons in various fires and would probably rather not be identified as boat rockers. And lobbyists give money, bundle checks and hold fundraising parties.

      • Paul Lucas

        Hey gotta start somewhere right? Id love to see someone at the central committee float a resolution to put an embargo on Pringle and everything he touches and everyone he associates with.

        • David Zenger

          You might want to talk to the Democrats about that, too. Pringle has gone non-denominational and that is only going to increase, especially in Anaheim with district elections.

          • Paul Lucas

            You are correct I didn’t think about that. Cheers.

  • Trudy White

    It is not finished, it is an eyesore and a hot mess. They were filming a movie there, last week, but I am pretty sure that is not why they built it.

  • Cynthia Ward

    That 10,000 per day was a fictionalized account of ridership from the cooked books of one Anaheim Public Works director, Natalie Meeks, who was boosting her numbers with non-existent HSR riders to qualify for Federal funding for her beloved Streetcar Nobody Desires. ARTIC and ARC streetcar work hand in hand, so the 10,000 riders a day got plugged in to the station too. And somehow “10,000 riders when HSR connects” morphed into 10,000 riders on OPENING DAY? Sorry, toots, not in the wildest fantasy of transportation geeks can that number materialize in the first year when based on a project that has not yet broken ground, and will NEVER draw down the Northern California riders btwn SF and Sac that Meeks added in to boost fictional riders from the 3,000 expected to take high speed rail from LA to Anaheim, into the 10,000 riders that looked so much better for the Fed grant apps! (BTW-even the existing HSR ridership numbers have been challenged by some of the best calculations in the private sector, and should HSR be built even THOSE numbers are unlikely!)

    Meeks flat-out colluded with her own Public Works/Transportation staff and OCTA’s Darrell Johnson to fudge the numbers, which she memorialized in an email, and that email was delivered to Anaheim City Council last Tuesday. Nobody will DO anything with it, but we tried.

    It gets worse. The Feds know better than to take some Public Works director (and her personal career agenda) at their word, and they will only count ridership numbers that are adopted by the regional planning board. SCAG APPROVED THE 10,000 RIDERS, they had to, it is the only way Meeks could use the numbers as “official.” Anyone have time to look at that transaction? Did Meeks lie to the SCAG board?

    It is disgusting that staff pulls these numbers out of hats (leaving the scraggly rabbit tucked inside the lining for later) BUT it is WORSE when elected officials fail to call for an ounce of accountability for those lies! Taxpayers will once again cover for Natalie Meeks’ blatant dishonesty, which was coordinated at the highest levels at OCTA, AND Meeks will STILL be employed next year, still blowing through tax dollars faster than we produce them, and very likely with a fat raise for all of her “hard work.”Don’t forget the awards from self-congratulatory planning and engineering groups!

    Once upon a time we were supposed to have safety nets, checks and balances, now we just have a closed system with everyone sticking their hands in each others’ pockets, and the final draw is against the wallet of the public, who has NO SAY in these matters anymore, and calls for accountability at public meetings are ignored, dismissed, and even mocked.

    Tuesday night when the email was brought forward to Council, Lucille Kring later commiserated with Natalie Meeks, as both Meeks and the Council were having such a difficult evening. Poor babies.

    BTW-we should have a ridership counting party of our own at ARTIC. We can invite John and Ken to do a live remote from the location, and we can all sit there together and count heads on the biggest ridership boost imaginable as people flood into ARTIC to see the radio hosts, and odds are they STILL come up short!

  • RyanCantor

    “Anaheim spokeswoman Ruth Ruiz said the city will hire a consultant to count the total number of people using the facility during its first six months.”

    $2-$4MM in the hole and Anaheim is going to hire someone to count people?

    Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

    • Philmore

      Wait! Another opportunity for Emery, Houston, and Co. to shove Charles Black down the public’s throat ! Or perhaps GafCON? lol.

      • David Zenger

        Phil, until recently Charles Black was listed as a Gafcon employee. It’s not at all implausible that Yehudi had us in his sights.

  • David Zenger

    Where to start?

    1) ARTIC is not a train station. It is actually a $200,000,000 physical barrier to the tracks.

    2) the term “General Fund Surplus” is a PR gimmick. Revenue in excess of current expenses goes to refill depleted Reserve Accounts.

    3) Hire a “consultant” to count users? You must be joking Ruth. Seriously. Tell us you’re making a bad joke. Build a boondoggle, then hire someone to tell us actually how well it works? I’ve been there in the mid-afternoon. The place is a mausoleum.

    4) Built for years to come? But where’s the added commuter traffic going to come from, Ruth? And wait ’til you start charging people to park. Those numbers will go down.

    5) “Opening Day” now means “first year?” Now leaving Anaheim, next stop, Orwellville.

    6) To Mr. Lalloway: even with the extraordinarily unlikely advent of HSR the daily number would still never reach 10,000 a day. So what are YOU going to do about, Mr. Chairman? Yes, we were all lied to. Going to take it lying down like all your predecessors?