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

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

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
Volume161
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by the Transportation Research Board through Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Project A-43. The final project report will include a summary of these findings, several case studies and recommendations for practice (Watkins et al., 2021). This paper extends that work by placing the results in the context of the academic literature, providing a more detailed description of the data and methods, and summarizing the findings for an audience beyond transit practitioners. Thank you to our program manager, Dianne Schwager, and our project panel for their comments and input.

Funding Information:
This work was funded by the Transportation Research Board through Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Project A-43. The final project report will include a summary of these findings, several case studies and recommendations for practice (Watkins et al. 2021). This paper extends that work by placing the results in the context of the academic literature, providing a more detailed description of the data and methods, and summarizing the findings for an audience beyond transit practitioners. Thank you to our program manager, Dianne Schwager, and our project panel for their comments and input.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s)

Keywords

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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Transportation
  • Management Science and Operations Research

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