Who’s on Board? Examining the Changing Characteristics of Transit Riders Using Latent Profile Analysis

Subsidies of public transit have more than doubled since the late 1980s, with a disproportionate share of funds going to rail service. These investments may have important implications, affecting both the composition of transit users and their travel behavior. To investigate this possibility, the authors use Latent Profile Analysis (LPA) and data from the 2009 and 2017 National Household Travel Surveys to examine changes in the characteristics of transit users in the US and in six major metropolitan areas. Nationwide, the authors find that the proportion of Transit Dependents grew by 17 percent to account for two-thirds of all transit users in 2017. These least advantaged riders were more likely over time to reside in very poor households and to be carless. There was a corresponding decline in Occasional Transit Users, for whom transit is part of a multi-modal travel profile. Higher-income, car-owning Choice Transit Riders increased slightly over time but accounted for less than 1 in 10 transit riders. Their growth was concentrated in a few large metropolitan areas. While increased spending on rail transit has shifted riders away from buses, the role of public transit as a redistributive social service that provides mobility to disadvantaged travelers has grown over time. Efforts to draw more multi-modal and car-owning travelers onto transit have been less successful. As transit systems struggle to recover riders coming out of the pandemic, transit’s waxing role of providing mobility for those without will likely grow even more prominent.


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Features: References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 15p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01763979
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: TRBAM-21-00716
  • Files: TRIS, TRB, ATRI
  • Created Date: Dec 23 2020 11:16AM