The idea that transit passengers are mostly poor isn't born out in passenger data for the Washington, D.C. Metro system. The Washington Examiner reports that the median income of a rail passenger rider on the D.C. system is $102,000. The median bus rider's income approaches $70,000 per year.
» Education levels vary, with 80 percent of rail riders having at least a college degree compared with 59 percent of Metrobus riders. Similarly, the median income of Metrorail riders is $102,110, while Metrobus riders earn a median $69,620 annually.
» One of every five Metrobus riders does not have a car in his household. Meanwhile, only one in every 50 Metrorail riders reported being carless, with the typical rail rider reporting two vehicles per household.
Thus, the system's ridership is mostly middle class.
Notably, the average income for a Metro passenger is substantially less than the median: $91,210 versus $102,110. This suggests substantial numbers of low income riders also use metro.
Still, the best way to target low-income riders is probably not to subsidize the wealthier and upper middle-income riders that make up more than half of the ridership. A better approach would be to target the subsidies as much as possible toward the low-income individuals, a strategy much more practical in the age of electronic fare cards.
The complete data can be found in the Washington Metro's media guide.