National Academies Press: OpenBook

Analysis of Recent Public Transit Ridership Trends (2020)

Chapter: Chapter 2 - Research Approach

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - Research Approach." 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:"Chapter 2 - Research Approach." 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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Page 11
Page 12
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - Research Approach." 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.
×
Page 12
Page 13
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - Research Approach." 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.
×
Page 13
Page 14
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - Research Approach." 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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Page 14

Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

5  Generally, on-time performance has been improving, although it is not causing transit ridership to increase. If anything, the trend appears that on-time performance is easier to maintain as ridership has decreased.  Rail ridership declines have occurred later than bus ridership declines, but a similar pattern exists. Only with substantial increases in transit service have there been substantial increases in ridership. Commuter rail seems to be fairing better. 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. Table 3: Case Study Results  Agency Strategies Results Connect Transit Bloomington-Normal, IL  Network redesign  Increased frequency  Real-time information Ridership up until 2015, then down through 2017, slowly increasing again. Greater Portland Metro Portland, ME  Speed and reliability improvements  High school and university partnerships  Real-time information  Express routes Ridership up until 2017 and then steady. Average speed also increasing. IndyGo Indianapolis, IN  Expanded frequency and hours  Downtown Transit Center Ridership down since 2015. Average speeds down, but on- time performance has improved. King County Metro Seattle, WA  Bus Rapid Transit  Improved fare payment  New streetcar Bus ridership up until 2017 and then steady. Average speeds down. Rail ridership up steadily since 2016 with new service. Maryland Transit Administration Baltimore, MD  Network redesign Bus ridership up until 2015 and then down since then. Light and heavy rail ridership down since 2013. Commuter rail ridership up until 2015, then steady.

6 Agency Strategies Results Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Boston, MA  Added service  Bus Rapid Transit  Speed and reliability improvements Bus ridership up until 2015 and down since then, but recently steady. Heavy and light rail ridership steady until 2017, then down. Commuter rail ridership down in 2015, then steady. Metro Transit Minneapolis, MN  Bus Rapid Transit  New light rail line  New commuter rail station Bus ridership down since 2015. Light rail ridership and service hours up after new line in 2014, but steady since 2016. Commuter rail ridership up in 2014, then back down and steady, until up in 2018. Metro Transit Authority of Harris Co Houston, TX  Network redesign  Real-time information  Improved fare payment Bus ridership unchanged. Light rail ridership and service hours up after new lines in 2013 and 2015, but steady since 2016. Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Pinellas Co, FL  TNC partnership Bus ridership down since 2016. Demand response ridership (TNC trips) up. Spokane Transit Authority Spokane, WA  Real-time information  Increased service and frequency Ridership up until 2015, then down through 2017, slowly increasing again with increased frequency.

7 Chapter 1: Background The Last Quarter of 2018 APTA Ridership Report shows that a concerning trend in transit ridership continues. Overall, unlinked passenger trips are down 2.0% from the previous year with light rail down as much as 3.0%. These declines continue across all modes except commuter rail and demand response. Although bus ridership is down the most in the mid-size cities (2.2% in regions with populations between 200,000 and 500,000), bus ridership is declining in all population groups. As shown in Figure 1, in 2018, following six years of consecutive decline, bus ridership attained its lowest point since 1990. Earlier APTA reports show that this is actually the lowest bus ridership since at least 1965. Even rail transit ridership declined following an upward trend since 2009. The only fixed schedule mode that seems to have escaped this trend is commuter rail, as shown in Figure 2, although transit ridership gains on commuter rail have also leveled off in the most recent years. These ridership declines have caught the attention of many in the industry, and rightfully so. The recent decline in transit ridership is particularly worrisome because traditional factors of ridership do not seem to be involved. In particular, as shown in Figure 3, both bus and rail Vehicle Revenue Miles (VRM) have increased steadily since 2013. Figure 1: Change in Annual Ridership by year for Bus, Rail and All Modes 

8 Figure 2: Change in Annual Ridership by year for Commuter Rail  Figure 3: Change in Annual Vehicle Revenue Miles by year for Bus, Rail and All Modes  The primary objectives of this research are, therefore, to: 1. Produce a current snapshot of public transit ridership trends in the U.S. on rail and bus services with a focus on changes in the past few years. 2. Explore and present strategies that transit agencies are considering and using in response.

9 Literature Overview In order to understand recent ridership trends in context, the study began with a review of a variety of academic and industry sources surrounding transit ridership both overall and within the past several years. Included in this literature review are studies investigating historical transit ridership effects, studies exploring specific policy changes and associated ridership effects, and studies comparing various regions and transit agencies. Our approach was to first look to national studies on transit ridership both recently and in the past. These studies tend to look at ten or more metropolitan areas in North America to highlight the trends associated with transit ridership overall. We then looked closer, at studies on specific factors such as density or presence of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs). These studies tended to focus on case studies or surveys sent to transit riders to summarize the impacts of a specific aspect or set of aspect that affects transit ridership. Finally, to get a sense of the efforts of transit agencies to bring back riders in recent years, we read news articles and transit agency reports on specific efforts, their public perception, and early results. This method allowed us to get a holistic view of transit ridership, recent trends, and what is being done to combat them. Appendix A summarizes the 66 sources reviewed. Based on a review of the literature identified above, several overarching trends have been identified and are presented below.  In nationwide studies, the most vital factor affecting transit ridership is the amount of service provided. Historically, ridership and service (such as vehicle revenue miles or hours) are highly correlated at every level of transit service. Transit agencies that increase service tend to see corresponding ridership increases. This service may be in the form of a new area served by transit or simply more frequent service to existing areas.  However, in the past few years, many transit agencies have increased service without associated ridership increases. Contrary to historic trends, transit agencies have not seen the ridership gains from service improvements that they had seen prior to 2008.  Transit ridership is tied to economic factors. Unemployment and to a lesser extent gas prices affect transit ridership nationwide, and while low unemployment creates more trips, it also increases vehicle miles and purchases. Since about 2012, the economy has improved, likely playing a role in ridership declines.  Transit ridership is also tied to built environment factors. Higher housing and employment density correlate to higher transit ridership, and higher availability of parking at workplaces has been shown to decrease transit ridership nationwide.  Shifts in housing and demographics are not favoring transit access. Despite a brief trend in the other direction, suburbs are outpacing urban cores in growth nationwide. These fast-growing suburbs are generally not as accessible by transit as urban cores. Additionally,

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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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