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.”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek