What’s Behind Declining Transit Ridership Nationwide? | CityLab

Laura Bliss at CityLab writes: What’s Behind Declining Transit Ridership Nationwide?
Pick a culprit: The rise of ride-hailing services, budget cuts, cheap oil, or bad service.

My quote:

New York City’s subway system has posted its first dip in ridership since 2009, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The news follows a news week full of reported transit passenger declines in Los Angeles and San Francisco. And, for years, nearly every city in the U.S. (with a few notable exceptions) has posted negative percent changes, too.

Which raises two questions as old as public transit itself: Where do the riders go, when they go? And how can cities bring them back?

Some of the factors behind these declines are national, as the transportation scholar David Levinson points out via email. The economy is expanding, and oil prices are plunging. People are buying more cars and driving them more often, both to work and to weekend activities that are better served by vehicles. American cities continue to suburbanize, and as they do, taking transit often becomes a less attractive option. Immigrants, long a strong base of ridership for agencies, are increasingly moving out of urban centers… and buying and driving their own vehicles.


I think the fall in transit (as shown in this link from Twitter, https://twitter.com/khoven/status/834830797244944386 which appears to be APTA / NTD data, but I don’t see it on their site) is much larger than Uber etc., due primarily to an expanding economy, continued suburbanization, and low gas prices. Only a few cities have stemmed it with transit investment and reorganization (Houston and Seattle notably).

Uber is an over-valued and over-exposed niche player (compare the total number of Uber+Lyft+taxi trips in the US with total transit ridership, or even the fall in ridership) that gets too much media attention for their own (or anyone else’s) good. Society would be better off if they were given attention appropriate to their market share.
I don’t know how accurate this site is, but http://www.statisticbrain.com/uber-company-statistics/  says New York has a monthly Uber revenue of $26M. At $5 – $10/trip (I don’t know what that is), it is 2.5-5M trips per month.
In contrast
New York’s Subway alone has 9 million trips per day, so 270 M per month (50 – 100 times). And that doesn’t include bus or commuter rail.
Obviously drops in service wouldn’t help ridership numbers, WMATA is the best example I know. I don’t know how systematic that is (one could look at the National Transit Database and quantify https://www.transit.dot.gov/sites/fta.dot.gov/files/docs/2015%20NTST.pdf See Exhibit 1, which implies increasing Vehicle Revenue Hours nationally, which suggests it is not a systematic problem ). For instance, MetroTransit in Twin Cities has not had systematic service drops (in fact expansion overall) and still sees ridership drops though according to this list.
In short the expanding economy increases ridership because:
  1. People have more $ to buy and drive cars
  2. People have more jobs to go to, and thus are more time constrained. Cars are faster than transit almost everywhere on a point-to-point basis.
  3. People feel like getting out more with $ in their pockets, and cars are better at that for most people going to most places in the US. More substitution of out-of-home for in-home activities takes place.

Unexpected versus expected network disruption: Effects on travel behavior

Recently published:

This paper discusses the observed evolution of traffic in the Minneapolis-St Paul

Figure 2: Five cordon circles around the Twin Cities for the I-35W Bridge, where the closed bridge is marked with an ‘x’ (Cordon 1 is the innermost cordon line, increasing to Cordon 5 as the outermost cordon line)
Figure 2: Five cordon circles around the Twin Cities for the I-35W Bridge, where the closed bridge is marked with an ‘x’ (Cordon 1 is the innermost cordon line, increasing to Cordon 5 as the outermost cordon line)

(Twin Cities) region road network following the unexpected collapse of the I-35W Bridge over the Mississippi River. The observations presented within this paper reveal that traffic dynamics are potentially different when a prolonged and unexpected network disruption occurs rather than a preplanned closure. Following the disruption from the I-35W Bridge’s unexpected collapse, we witnessed a unique trend: an avoidance phenomenon after the disruption. More specifically, drivers are observed to drastically avoid areas near the disruption site, but gradually return after a period of time following the collapse. This trend is not observed in preplanned closures studied to date. To model avoidance, it is proposed that the tragedy generated a perceived travel cost that discouraged commuters from using these sections. These perceived costs are estimated for the Twin Cities network and found to be best described as an exponential decay cost curve with respect to time. After reinstituting this calibrated cost curve into a mesoscopic simulator, the simulated traffic into the discouraged areas are found to be within acceptable limits of the observed traffic on a week-by-week basis. The proposed model is applicable to both practitioners and researchers in many traffic-related fields by providing an understanding of how traffic dynamics will evolve after a long-term, unexpected network disruption.