The National Academies

TCRP J-11/Task 28 [Final]

Analysis of Recent Public Transit Ridership Trends

  Project Data
Funds: $60,000
Research Agency: Georgia Tech Research Corporation
Principal Investigator: Dr. Kari Edison Watkins
Effective Date: 6/6/2018
Completion Date: 12/5/2018

After years of ridership increases, public transit agencies in the United States have sustained ridership declines across the board, in all types of communities on both rail and bus transit services. The decline in bus ridership has been particularly acute. There is a growing chorus of public transit agencies asking to better understand what their peers are experiencing, what analyses they have conducted (system-wide, by mode, and by route), and what actions they are considering and taking to increase public transit ridership.

Some of these factors have long been recognized, while other factors have emerged more recently.  For example, it is well established that public transit ridership is affected by both:

·         Economic factors, such as major shifts in the economy and employment,  gas prices, and auto ownership; and

·         Transit service attributes, such as service quantity (i.e., availability, frequency and coverage), fares, and service quality, in particular, reliability.  


While some critical concerns remain beyond reach of public transit agencies because data do not exist or are not available for analysis, concerns regarding factors impacting ridership which have emerged recently (roughly in the past 2-5 years) merit more research.  Recognizing the importance of understanding (1) the factors that affect public transit ridership and the influence these factors have on planning and decision making by transit agencies, and (2) the strategies that are being considered and used to address changes in transit ridership.  


The objectives of this research are to (1) produce a current snapshot of public transit ridership trends in the U.S. on rail and bus services in urban and suburban areas, focusing on what has changed in the past several years and (2) explore and present strategies that transit agencies are considering and using for all modes in response to changes in ridership.  The final deliverable from this project should  present trends and cross-cutting insights that will inform and benefit numerous transit agencies.


The research is complete and the report is has been published as TCRP Report 209.  The report can be view and download the report here: https://www.trb.org/Publications/Blurbs/179912.aspx

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