Yesterday, the Antiplanner noted that APTA has published its third quarter ridership report for 2016. The report shows that, nationwide, transit ridership was 2.9 percent less than the same quarter in 2015. Heavy-rail ridership fell by 2.5% and bus by 4.4%, while light rail grew by 4.1% and commuter rail by 0.5%.
In addition to Washington, DC, where heavy rail fell by 13.5 percent, some of the biggest heavy-rail losers include Baltimore, which also declined by 13.5 percent; Atlanta (-9%); San Juan (-8%); and Miami (-5%). Ridership grew in a few places, but that growth was swamped by the 1.4% decline on the New York City subway, which is by far the largest heavy-rail operator in the country.
The main reason light rail grew was the opening of new lines in Seattle and New Orleans, both of which saw growth of around 60 percent, as well as Los Angeles, which saw a 12 percent gain. Light-rail ridership also grew significantly in Baltimore (15%), Boston (13%), and Phoenix (+14%), but light-rail suffered declines of 5 percent or more in Buffalo (-15%), Dallas (-6%), Norfolk (-7%), Pittsburgh (-9%), Sacramento (-9%), San Jose (-12%), and St. Louis (-6%).
Though commuter-rail didn’t decline overall, it isn’t exactly thriving. The Long Island Railroad gained 5.5%, but Metro North lost a percent and New Jersey Transit lost 2.5%. Other losers include Austin (-11%), Dallas (-13%), Minneapolis (-5%), Orlando (-10%), and Philadelphia-SEPTA (-14%).
Big losers among bus systems include Dallas (-11%), Fort Lauderdale (-12%), Los Angeles (-9%), Miami (-11%), Norfolk-Virginia Beach (-8%), Phoenix (-14%), Portland (-6%), San Antonio (-10%), San Jose (-11%), and St. Louis (-10%). While San Francisco ridership grew by 7 percent, no other big city saw ridership grow by as much as 5 percent.
Declines in bus ridership more than offset gains in light-rail ridership in Baltimore, Charlotte, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. Other cities that saw a net loss in ridership include Chicago, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia, Portland, and Salt Lake, among others.
A researcher at the University of Michigan wonder whether the United States has reached peak auto. But it seems more likely that the second-greatest recession in American history merely caused a small blip in driving. Similarly, declines in transit ridership can be blamed on low fuel prices.
Still, a case can be made that we are approaching–and many cities have probably already reached–peak transit. Uber, Lyft, and other shared auto systems are eating into transit ridership. When shared self-driving cars hit the streets, the declines we are seeing today will seem mild by comparison.