Understanding the Recent Transit Ridership Decline in Major US Cities: Service Cuts or Emerging Modes?

Public transit ridership in major US cities has been flat or declining over the past few years. Several authors have attempted both to explain this trend and to offer policy recommendations for how to respond to it. Past writing on the topic is dominated by theoretical arguments that identify possible explanations, with the few empirical analyses excluding the most recent data, from 2015-2018, where the decline is steepest. This research conducts a longitudinal analysis of the determinants of public transit ridership in major North American cities for the period 2002- 2018, segmenting the analysis by mode to capture differing effects on rail versus bus. The authors' research finds that standard factors, such changes in service levels, gas price and auto ownership, while important, are insufficient to explain the recent ridership declines. The authors find that the introduction of bike share in a city is associated with increased light and heavy rail ridership, but a 1.8% decrease in bus ridership. The authors' results also suggest that for each year after Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) enter a market, heavy rail ridership can be expected to decrease by 1.3% and bus ridership can be expected to decrease by 1.7%. This TNC effect builds with each passing year and may be an important driver of recent ridership declines.

  • Supplemental Notes:
    • This paper was sponsored by TRB committee AP025 Standing Committee on Public Transportation Planning and Development.
  • Corporate Authors:

    Transportation Research Board

  • Authors:
  • Conference:
  • Date: 2019


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Features: Figures; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 19p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01697508
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: 19-04931
  • Files: TRIS, TRB, ATRI
  • Created Date: Mar 1 2019 3:51PM