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Analysis of Recent Public Transit Ridership Trends (2020)

Chapter: Appendix A - Literature Review

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Page 79
Suggested Citation:"Appendix A - Literature Review." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Analysis of Recent Public Transit Ridership Trends. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25635.
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix A - Literature Review." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Analysis of Recent Public Transit Ridership Trends. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25635.
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix A - Literature Review." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Analysis of Recent Public Transit Ridership Trends. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25635.
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix A - Literature Review." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Analysis of Recent Public Transit Ridership Trends. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25635.
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix A - Literature Review." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Analysis of Recent Public Transit Ridership Trends. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25635.
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix A - Literature Review." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Analysis of Recent Public Transit Ridership Trends. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25635.
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix A - Literature Review." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Analysis of Recent Public Transit Ridership Trends. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25635.
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix A - Literature Review." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Analysis of Recent Public Transit Ridership Trends. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25635.
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix A - Literature Review." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2020. Analysis of Recent Public Transit Ridership Trends. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25635.
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74 in transit service levels following the redesign appear to have little effect on ridership. Additionally, decline in average speed is most likely a product of routes being transitioned to serve denser, more congested areas of the city. Rail ridership trends are overwhelmed by the openings of two light rail lines in 2015, indicated on Figure 48 with an expanded scale to show the dramatic effects of rail openings. These new lines have steadied out at nearly 300% more service than was provided in 2012, however ridership sits only 70% above the 2012 level. Figure 47: Houston METRO Bus Systemwide Trends from 2012 to 2018  Figure 48: Houston METRO Light Rail Systemwide Trends from 2012 to 2018  While the route alignments and schedules changed between 2013 and 2017, their comparison provides insights on the effect of the network redesign as seen in Figure 49. Only a few of the routes remained similar enough to be able to relate 2013 and 2017 route data with an arrow in the figure. Ridership is calculated as average weekday boardings during the fall period in September, October, November, December, January, and February of 2013 and 2017. Both passenger counts

75 and route frequencies were provided from the transit agency. From 2013 to 2017, bus routes with increased frequency did not increase in passenger boardings per trip. Figure 49: Houston Metro Frequency and Ridership Trends in 2013 and 2017  On-time performance (OTP) transit data was not available for analysis. METRO defines fixed route bus on-time performance as leaving within the five-minute window after the scheduled departure time. OTP data is calculated based on automatic vehicle location (AVL) software. Future Plans to Encourage Ridership As Houston’s population grows, Houston METRO plans meet the region’s transportation needs by expanding its transit network. In January 2017, METRO began developing a new plan, METRONext, for transit services in the Houston/Harris County region with a focus on providing more transportation choices to more people. The goals of METRONext are to improve mobility, enhance connectivity, support vibrant communities, and ensure a return on investment. METRONext will develop a Regional Transit Plan, the Vision Plan, and a Moving Forward Plan. The Vision Plan will identify major capital investments and other improvements needed for METRO to meet the mobility challenges of the next 20 years. The Moving Forward Plan is the first step in implementation and includes major investments such as increased regional express service, extended light rail lines, a new bus rapid transit system and many improvements to the existing bus network including new Park & Rides, Community Connectors, an increase in bus service, and enhanced bus stops to address Universal Accessibility. Future bus rapid transit systems include the Uptown BRT project with frequent transit service from Westpark to the Northwest Transit Center in 2020, and the connecting Inner-Katy BRT project to downtown.

76 Case Study 9 – Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), Pinellas County, FL Background The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) is the operator of bus, commuter bus, and demand response services in the St. Petersburg area. PSTA now operates 34 fixed routes providing 12.4 million passengers trips a year. PSTA was one of the first operator to provide subsidies to TNCs for connecting service to select bus stops in 2016 with their Direct Connect Program. After implementing all phases of Direct Connect in 2018, PSTA is looking to evaluate every bus route in the system, redesign their fixed route system, and implement an express bus rapid transit corridor. Formed in 1984 in the merger of two area transit agencies, the PSTA operates in the greater Tampa-St. Petersburg area. While PSTA serves St. Petersburg and some surrounding areas, a separate transit agency called Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) serves Tampa and points east despite the downtown areas of Tampa and St. Petersburg being no more than 15 miles apart. The two systems began honoring each other’s fares and allowing free transfers in 2004. The transit agency recently made headlines as the first operator to provide subsidies to TNCs for connecting service to select bus stops. This partnership, which began in 2016, covers the first $5 of an Uber ride to designated bus stops, expanding their service area outside of walking distance. Lyft was added soon after, and in 2018, the number of designated stops doubled to 24. This program, called Direct Connect, was the first to integrate TNCs into a local bus system. The program was implemented in three phases from early 2016 to early 2018 with increasing operational coverage across the greater Tampa-St. Petersburg area. Key Performance Trends Key trends for bus service from 2012 to 2018 are shown in Figure 50 which displays a 12- month rolling average normalized to January 2012 of the unlinked passenger trips (UPT), vehicle revenue miles (VRM), and average speed. Phases 1 and 2 of the TNC partnership start date is indicated on the figures. Phase 3 was fully implemented in April 2018. Bus ridership dropped throughout 2016 and 2017, while service, speed, and on-time performance remained roughly the same. Demand response ridership, which PSTA uses to categorize these TNC trips, is up nearly 10% since late 2016. In addition, the trend of speed dropping rapidly while VRM increases at a similar rate seems to indicate quite a large increase in Vehicle Revenue Hours. This likely corresponds to an increase in the number of “demand response” vehicles on the road at any given time. It appears that while the pilot has grown demand response ridership, buses are not seeing positive results of the pilot. This is perhaps due to the phenomenon of a preference for a one-seat ride. In other words, once passengers are already in the TNC vehicle, they would prefer to take it all the way to their destination than transfer to a bus along the way.

77 Figure 50: PSTA Bus Systemwide Trends from 2012 to 2018  While focusing on implementing the Direct Connect Program, frequency of PSTA fixed- routes has not dramatically shifted between 2015 and 2018 as seen in Figure 51, which shows fixed-route ridership and frequencies before and after Direct Connect’s full implementation. Ridership data for Figure 51 and Figure 52 is from average daily automated passenger counter (APC) data averaged monthly over the fall period (October, November, December, February) and frequency data is provided from the transit agency. Average daily ridership has decreased on all but four routes since fall 2015. Figure 51: PSTA Frequency and Ridership Trends in 2015 and 2018 

78 Figure 52: PSTA On‐time Performance and Ridership Trends in 2015 and 2018  PSTA defines on-time performance as 0 minutes early to 4.59 minutes late. This definition was modeled after the American Bus Benchmarking Group (ABBG) standard. On-time performance is collected using HASTUS transit scheduling software and recorded as monthly average on-time performance as seen in Figure 52. On-time performance increased on every bus route between fall 2015 and 2018 but this trend was not associated with an increase in ridership. Future Plans to Encourage Ridership PSTA is working towards increasing transit ridership, making transit more competitive with driving, and building financial stability. Current projects towards their goal of “safely connecting people and places” include:  Circulator Study in Downtown St. Petersburg,  Bus Rapid Transit,  Advantage Pinellas Transit Planning Effort, and  New mobile ticketing app and smartcard system. PSTA is currently conducting an analysis of transit circulation within downtown St. Petersburg to identify options for a modified or new network of circulator services. Express Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service will be piloted in St. Petersburg’s Central Avenue corridor from downtown St. Petersburg to the Gulf beaches and open in 2021. Advantage Pinellas is a planning effort to evaluate every bus route in the system. On-board rider surveys and public outreach will result in recommendations for route and mobility service changes. PSTA and HART are currently beta testing “Flamingo Fares”, a regional mobile ticketing app and smartcard system.

79 Case Study 10 – Spokane Transit Authority, Spokane, WA Background The Spokane Transit Authority (STA) is the sole provider of bus and demand-response service in Spokane County, WA. Public takeover of Spokane’s bus routes took place in 1968 after years of declining revenues. A public transportation benefit area was established in 1980 to devote sales taxes to transit, and the Spokane Transit Authority was created alongside it. STA serves the cities of Spokane, Spokane Valley, Cheney, Liberty Lake, Airway Heights, Medical Lake, the Town of Millwood, and part of Eastern Washington University. Today, the transit agency operates 36 fixed routes, most of which run through a downtown transit center. Five routes provide frequent, fifteen- minute or less service all day. In addition to the fixed-route bus service, STA provides commuter express routes, paratransit, and vanpool services. During the early 2000s, fixed route bus service was expanded and the region experienced ridership growth as a result. Due to the recession, revenue from sales tax was lost and STA was forced to cut and restructure fixed route service frequency to concentrate on key routes. Productivity (as defined as riders per revenue mile) and ridership increased until 2015 following this consolidation and the implementation of a university pass program. By partnering with universities and local community colleges, the typical rider has shifted to a slightly younger demographic. Figure 53: Spokane Transit Authority Bus Systemwide Trends from 2012 to 2018  Key Performance Trends Key performance trends of STA from 2012 to 2018 are shown in Figure 53 which displays a 12-month rolling average normalized to January 2012 of the unlinked passenger trips (UPT), vehicle revenue miles (VRM), on-time performance (OTP), and average speed. Despite some growth early in the decade, transit ridership in Spokane dropped by nearly 10% between 2015 and 2017 because of the movement of business and construction delays. During this period, Spokane introduced real-time information and university bus pass programs. On-time performance tracks

80 similarly to ridership, gradually decreasing beginning in mid-2015. VRM and average speed have remained fairly constant until the end of 2017 when ridership trends appear to be pointing upward, perhaps due to the transit agency’s most recent strategic plan to increase service and ridership. Ballot measures increasing sales tax, passed in 2016 and 2018, have resulted in more funding and a focus on high performance transit. Service changes implemented in 2017 included extending Saturday night service, increasing weekend service, providing new routes, and improving bus stop facilities. The new routes and increased frequencies on some routes can be seen in Figure 54 and Figure 55 which compare transit ridership data, frequency, and on-time performance in 2016, before implementation, and 2018, after implementation. Ridership data is the average weekday farebox data during the fall period in September, October, November, December of 2016 and 2018. Stop and frequency data is from the transit agency’s General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). On-time performance data has been collected with a CAD/AVL system since 2014. The fixed route service frequency and ridership trends associated with the 2017 shift in service are displayed in Figure 54. Although the increased frequency has resulted in more riders, transit ridership per trip has decreased so route productivities have declined. Figure 54: Spokane Transit Frequency and Ridership Trends in 2016 and 2018  On-time performance and transit ridership trends during the 2016 and 2018 period are also displayed in Figure 55. STA is committed to on-time performance and maintains a very high

81 systemwide standard. The 2017 service change included stop improvements associated with lower dwell times and higher on-time performance. Although on-time performance is highly valued by customers, there was no clear trend between on-time performance and ridership. Figure 55: Spokane Transit On‐time Performance and Ridership Trends in 2016 and 2018  Future Plans to Encourage Ridership The local community has recently invested in transit by voting to increase sales tax funding in 2016 and 2018, developing college bus pass programs, and providing bus passes to everyone who works or lives in a new urban neighborhood development. Future key projects include the addition of a six-mile bus rapid transit (BRT) route, Central City Line, which will connect Spokane’s downtown and colleges and improve service, speed, and reliability in 2021 with near- level platforms, off-board ticketing, and transit signal priority. There are also plans to extend the transit service area of STA to the nearby Coeur d’Alene metropolitan area in 2025. Summary Nearly every transit agency investigated in the case studies had ridership increases through 2015 followed by steady decreases in ridership. The exceptions to this are Houston, TX, Portland, ME, and Seattle, WA.

82  In Houston, transit ridership has remained relatively constant without the declines seen by most transit agencies, but this is amongst substantial increases in service that came with the network redesign.  In Portland, transit service has been increased, especially on routes that serve schools and universities, but these strategic improvements have really paid off as ridership has increased even more than the service.  In Seattle, transit service has also increased, but ridership has increased even more. Ridership on both bus and streetcar have increased steadily over time with substantial investments in dedicated right-of-way and rapid transit services as well as a focus on speed and reliability. In all other cases, among the transit agencies where ridership declined, the amount of service provided has remained relatively similar over this time or has only been slightly increased. In every transit agency reviewed, average speeds have decreased or have remained the same, indicating that more vehicles are frequently needed to offer the same or degraded service. Some transit agencies have fought hard to keep average speeds up using strategic improvements such as signal priority or improvements to boarding. Generally, on-time performance has been improving, although it is clearly not causing transit ridership to increase. If anything, the trend appears that on-time performance is easier to maintain as ridership has decreased. With regard to rail ridership, the results are more mixed. In some transit agencies, such as Maryland Transit Authority’s light rail, ridership decreased and in others, such as Boston’s heavy rail, ridership remained steady. Minneapolis and Houston had substantial increases in ridership on light rail, but only with even greater increases in service, including the opening of new lines. Commuter rail seems to be fairing better across the country and the transit agencies among the case studies are no different. Whatever is impacting bus transit ridership across the country does not have the same impact on the dedicated right-of-way longer distance commuter rail services. However, all of the transit agencies interviewed are working hard to retain their riders. Transit agencies such as Houston and Baltimore are restructuring their bus service in some way including network redesigns and simplification of routes and information. Oftentimes, such as in Boston, this is paired with substantial analysis, making use of new data and analytics tools. Pinellas County has implemented a substantial partnership with the TNCs. Multiple transit agencies are updating their rolling stock, especially to obtain lower emitting and faster boarding vehicles. Newer technology in fare media and real-time information is being considered or has been adopted by many of the transit agencies. Transit agencies such as Portland and Spokane are doing substantial work to attract high school and college students as well as strategic partnership with new developments. Finally, there is a concerted effort to use dedicated right-of-way such as BRT and

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Transit ridership is down across all modes except commuter rail and demand response. Bus ridership is down the most in mid-size cities (populations of 200,000 – 500,000), and, after six years of consecutive decline, it is at its lowest point overall since the 1970s.

The TRB Transit Cooperative Research Program's TCRP Research Report 209: Analysis of Recent Public Transit Ridership Trends presents a current snapshot of public transit ridership trends in the U.S. on bus and rail services in urban and suburban areas, focusing on what has changed in the past several years. It also explores and presents strategies that transit agencies are considering and using for all transit modes in response to changes in ridership.

Ten case studies are included to better understand individual strategies transit agencies are using to mitigate ridership losses and increase ridership overall. Seven of the 10 transit agencies investigated in the case studies followed the trend, with ridership increases between 2012 and 2015 followed by steady decreases in ridership. Generally, on-time performance has been improving, although it is not causing transit ridership to increase.

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