Trends in Public Transportation Ridership: Implications for Federal Policy

Source: William J. Mallett, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, R45144, March 26, 2018

Despite significant investments in public transportation at the federal, state, and local levels, transit ridership has fallen in many of the top 50 transit markets. If strong gains in the New York area are excluded, ridership nationally declined by 7% over the past decade. This report examines the implications for federal transit policy of the current weakness and possible future changes in transit ridership.

Although there has been a lot of research into the factors that explain transit ridership, there seems to be no comprehensive explanation for the recent decline. One complication is that national trends in public transportation ridership are not necessarily reflected at the local level; thus, different areas may have different reasons for growth or decline. But at the national level, the two factors that most affect public transportation ridership are competitive factors and the supply of transit service. Several competitive factors, notably the drop in the price of gasoline over the past few years and the growing popularity of bikeshare and ridesourcing services, appear to have adversely affected transit ridership. The amount of transit service supplied has generally grown over time, but average fares have risen faster than inflation, possibly deterring riders…..