Why has public transit ridership declined in the United States?

Gregory D. Erhardt, Jawad Mahmud Hoque, Vedant Goyal, Simon Berrebi, Candace Brakewood, Kari E. Watkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Between 2012 and 2018, bus ridership in the United States declined 15% and rail ridership declined 3%. These losses are widespread and in contrast to trends in other countries. Using data from 215 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we identify the factors responsible for this decline and quantify the contribution of each. We show that expanded transit service and land-use changes increased ridership 4.7% on bus and 10.7% on rail. However, losses due to other factors exceed these gains. Ride-hailing is the biggest contributor to transit ridership decline over this period, reducing bus ridership by 10%. Ride-hailing's effect on rail varies by metropolitan area size: it has little effect on rail ridership in the largest metropolitan areas but decreases rail ridership 10% in mid-sized metropolitan areas. Lower gas prices and higher fares contribute to lower transit ridership, as do higher incomes, more teleworking and higher car ownership. By providing a clear understanding of the causes of transit ridership decline, our research provides the foundation on which communities can craft an effective response to the problem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-87
Number of pages20
JournalTransportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice
StatePublished - Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s)


  • Bus
  • Rail
  • Ride-hail
  • TNC
  • Transit

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)
  • Transportation
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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