What’s the secret ingredient to increasing transit ridership? Fast, frequent transit

What’s the secret ingredient to increasing transit ridership? Fast, frequent transit

July 14, 2016  | Steven Higashide

Fast, frequent transit that people can walk to is the key to increasing urban transit ridership.

That’s the main conclusion of “Who’s On Board 2016: What Today’s Riders Teach Us About Transit That Works,” the latest edition in TransitCenter’s Who’s On Board series of national transit rider opinion studies. Drawing on results from three focus groups and a survey of 3,000 people in 17 metropolitan areas across the country, Who’s On Board offers several core findings to inform how government agencies and elected officials approach transportation, land use, and development policy.

The most important “first mile/last mile” solution is walking

The majority of transit riders typically walk to transit, and the percentage is largest among those who use transit most frequently. This finding underscores the importance of putting transit stations in busy, walkable neighborhoods; building offices and housing within walking distance of transit; and providing more and safer pedestrian routes to transit.

Riders care about frequency and travel time. Wi-Fi? Not so much.

The two most important determinants of rider satisfaction with transit are service frequency and travel time. The availability of information and conditions at the train station or bus stop were also important, suggesting that real-time information and shelters are important amenities for transit agencies to provide. On the other hand, power outlets and Wi-Fi were rated the least important items out of a list of 12 potential service improvements.

There are three common patterns of transit use…

…occasional riders who take transit once in awhile, commuters who take transit regularly but only for work, and all-purpose riders who take transit regularly for multiple reasons. The mix of these groups varies significantly by city:

All-purpose riders are more prevalent where it’s easy to walk to transit, and where transit is frequent and provides access to many destinations. Transit agencies should strive to increase their number, as they are the most reliable and financially efficient customers to serve.

Transit agencies can take no one for granted

For decades, transportation professionals have talked about two kinds of transit riders: car-owning “choice riders” who use transit when it meets their needs, and carless “captive riders” who will use transit regardless of its quality.

Who’s On Board finds that the “captivity” of carless riders is severely overstated. People who live and work near better transit ride transit more often, whether or not they own cars. When transit becomes functionally useless, there are very few people who will continue to use it—a fact made plain by the nationwide decline in bus ridership in cities that cut service during the Great Recession.

Transit that doesn’t follow these simple rules–like commuter rail with parking lots at every station or slow streetcars that don’t connect to other transit–tends to perform poorly. Frequent transit networks in walkable neighborhoods, on the other hand, reduce reliance on cars, spark economic growth, and create the vibrant urban places we know and love.

To speak with TransitCenter about the report findings, contact Steven Higashide at shigashide@transitcenter.org or 646-435-0658.

(Ed. Note: You can download the full report here

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Eno Center for Transportation.

Share

Related Articles

States Work to Fill Gaps with Branded, Subsidized Intercity Bus Services

States Work to Fill Gaps with Branded, Subsidized Intercity Bus Services

Intercity bus travel is far from novel in the United States — in fact, for much of the early-to-mid 20th century, it was the go-to option...

With Buses Fare-Free, SEAT Ridership Rises

With Buses Fare-Free, SEAT Ridership Rises

Philip Plotch, principal researcher at the Eno Center for Transportation, said public transit has benefits not only to the bus rider, but...

Report Details Pay, Workplace Culture, and Other Issues to Address in Bus Operator Shortage

Report Details Pay, Workplace Culture, and Other Issues to Address in Bus Operator Shortage

Local, state, and federal agencies need to concertedly raise awareness about a worsening national bus operator shortage and take various...

Opting Out of Mass Transit?

Opting Out of Mass Transit?

In his analysis of the impact of remote work on transit, Phil Plotch, the Eno Center for Transportation’s principal researcher, argues...

Public Transit Ridership is Slow to Return, Despite High Gas Prices

Public Transit Ridership is Slow to Return, Despite High Gas Prices

But that aid is finite, said Robert Puentes, who runs the Eno Center for Transportation in Washington, and agencies need to get creative to...

Transit Ridership: Not Expected to Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels This Decade

Transit Ridership: Not Expected to Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels This Decade

Since the COVID pandemic began, transit agencies have been trying to figure out when all their riders will come back. Although local bus...

Centennial Anthology: A Collection of Essays and Ideas

Centennial Anthology: A Collection of Essays and Ideas

Coming Out of the Crisis: A Look Past the Pandemic  The pandemic isn’t quite behind us, but every day the contours of the new normal...

“What Does Equity in Transportation Actually Mean?” Centennial Recap

“What Does Equity in Transportation Actually Mean?” Centennial Recap

Over the last two years of the pandemic, millions of essential workers, long identified as those most vulnerable during the pandemic, had...

Albuquerque’s bus system starts zero-fare experiment for 2022

Albuquerque’s bus system starts zero-fare experiment for 2022

More American cities are thinking about their transit systems that way, according to Robert Puentes, who heads up the ENO Center for...

Webinar: Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of US and Canadian Transit

Webinar: Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of US and Canadian Transit

Christof Spieler has recently released the second edition of his wildly popular book Trains, Buses, People. Christof’s new book now...

Federal program to cut bus emissions gets a Senate mandate: Some buses must pollute

Federal program to cut bus emissions gets a Senate mandate: Some buses must pollute

Still, the five-year total of nearly $107 billion for transit was about 65% above what was expected if spending remained flat in that...

Webinar: Redesigning Transit Networks for the New Mobility Future

Webinar: Redesigning Transit Networks for the New Mobility Future

Bus network redesigns have been a major trend in public transit over the past several years, in part due to the availability of much better...

Be Part of the Conversation
Sign up to receive news, events, publications, and course notifications.
No thanks