Why Is Transit Ridership Falling?

Transit ridership took a turn for the worse in 2016. In all but a handful of cities, fewer people rode trains and buses, even in some places, like Los Angeles, that have invested significantly in expanding capacity.

It’s not just a one-year blip, either. In many American cities, the drop in transit ridership is an established trend. The big question is why.

Transit consultant Jarrett Walker at Human Transit wants more than vague speculation about the effect of low gas prices and ride-hailing services. He’s looking for more specific research about causes and effects — and soon:

Bottom line: We need research! Not the sort of formally peer reviewed research that will take a year to publish, but faster work by real transportation scholars that can report preliminary results in time to guide action. I am not a transportation researcher, but there are plenty of them out there, and this is our moment of need.

Here are my research questions:

  • Which global causes seem to matter?  Straight regression analysis, once you get data you believe.  Probably the study will need to start with a small dataset of transit agencies, so that there’s time to talk with each agency and understand their unique data issues.
  • What’s happening to the quantity of transit?  If ridership is falling because service is falling, this isn’t a surprise.  If ridership is falling because service is getting slower — which means lower frequency and speed at the same cost — well, that wouldn’t be surprising either.
  • How does the decline correlate to types of service?  Is this fall happening in dense areas or just in car-based suburbs? Is it happening on routes that are designed for high ridership, or only on those that are designed for coverage purposes (services retained because three sympathetic people need them rather than because the bus will be full).   Is it correlated to frequency or span changes? Heads up, local geeks! A lot could be done looking at data for your own transit agency — route by route and even (where available) stop by stop, to analyze where in your metro the fall is really occurring… (more)

I appreciate the thought that went into this article.  In my experience, people decide how to live their lives based on their personal needs, not based on datasets and studies. My questions would be of a more personal nature and I would put them to the public.

  • Why do you take public transit when you take it?
  • Why do you chose to take another transit option when you don’t?
  • Do your priorities align with SFMTA and City Hall priorities?
  • What Muni changes do you support?
  • What Muni changes do you oppose?
  • Do you prefer speed or comfort?
  • Would you rather stand on public transit if you get there faster?
  • Would you rather sit if it takes longer to get there?
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3 thoughts on “Why Is Transit Ridership Falling?

  1. It doesn’t take me an hour to get somewhere in my car.
    I can smoke or eat in my car.
    I can have a private phone convo in my car
    I can kiss a girl in my car
    I dont have to carry anything
    I don’t have to stand for hours in my car
    I can avoid certain streets and take my own short quick route
    I don’t have to stand in a crowded bus watching cars fly by
    It’s more convienent and quicker no waiting for my car
    $10 a day versus $50 in gas a week
    Walk out to my car or walk 3 blocks instead of 2 to a bus stop because a stop was removed to speed up service?
    Growing up everybody always wanted a Porsche or to drive couldn’t wait to get their license.
    I can afford my car and rather be more comfortable.
    I spent $70,000 on my carwhy would I just park it?
    Muni sucks always has.
    Last but not least I’m not giving one fucking penny to the sfmta that goes towards ruining the streets of SF or towards their stupid planned Bay Area. I know they’re getting it in taxes but I have no choice in that matter. But why add to it?

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  2. Why do you take public transit when you take it?
    Because of necessity, not by choice. I can’t drive my car to work because there is no parking.

    Why do you chose to take another transit option when you don’t?
    I drive my car whenever I can, running errands, to the store, it’s simply much more convenient.

    Do your priorities align with SFMTA and City Hall priorities?
    Absolutely not. The changes the staff does at the SFMTA at their own, not what is best to the community.

    What Muni changes do you support?
    Nothing. MUNI makes things/life much more difficult.

    What Muni changes do you oppose?
    Everything. Do we really need a green carpet to know that it is for bikes only?
    Do we need to give preference to the buses with a red carpet?
    There are more people than buses in the city and people don’t get a preference.

    Do you prefer speed or comfort?
    Comfort, this thing of the buses running quicker is not true. Buses will be much slower on 11th Street because the lanes were reduced from 2 to 1.

    Would you rather stand on public transit if you get there faster?
    It doesn’t matter how buses or streets are changed, it doesn’t get any better.

    Would you rather sit if it takes longer to get there?
    Again, all these changes are not creating any difference. Buses on Mission gained what 2, 3 or 5 minutes more?
    All the mess that it has created: a lot less parking, a lot more traffic congestions!

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