Mythbusting or Mythmaking?

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is circulating what claims to be a mythbusting report about recent declines in transit ridership. As it is based mostly on interviews with 35 transit CEOs, however, it does more mythmaking than mythbusting. Other than the interviews, its only real data analysis looks back at transit ridership since 1992.

Based on these ridership data, the report argues that the recent declines in ridership are merely some sort of natural cycle of declines and increases. Similar declines were seen after 1992, 2002, and 2007, all of which were followed by recoveries.

The interviews found that transit CEOs weren’t too worried about the declines. Of course, why should they be when most of their money comes from people other than transit riders? To the extent that they were worried, the CEOs blamed the declines mainly on low gas prices, while only three of the 35 CEOs considered ride sharing to be “a root cause of ridership decline.” In fact, the CEOs were more concerned about how the increased congestion caused by ride-sharing vehicles was slowing down transit buses and thereby indirectly discouraging ridership.

To the Antiplanner, this only shows that transit executives are out of touch with their customers. As noted here previously, surveys show that a third of ride-sharing users would otherwise have taken transit. Given the rapid growth of Uber and Lyft since 2014, that suggests that two-thirds to three-fourths of the decline in transit ridership is explained by the growth in ride sharing.

The myth that APTA wants to spread is that ridership declines are due to traffic congestion slowing buses, so therefore transit needs more money to build dedicated rail and bus ways. A secondary myth is that another energy shortage is right around the corner, so we should spend more tax dollars on transit now so it will be ready when gas prices once again rise above $4 a gallon.

Neither myth withstands scrutiny. Yes, buses are slow, but buses have always been slow. Transit agencies can do more to speed them up by reducing the number of stops and introducing pre-boarding fare payment systems than by building dedicated transit ways. But slow buses aren’t the root cause of declining ridership.

Nor is the transit industry likely to be rescued by another energy shortage anytime soon. American petroleum production is high and should be able to sustain itself until well after driverless ride sharing becomes the norm. Whether those driverless cars will be powered by electric or internal combustion engines is open for debate, but either way does not bode well for public transit. Any spending on dedicated transit ways would therefore be a waste.

The APTA report didn’t look at future energy supplies, ride-sharing trends, or the impact driverless ride sharing will have on transit in the next decade. As such, it didn’t bust any myths at all. Instead, it merely follows transit’s long history of seeking more subsidies. The Antiplanner hopes that history will end soon.

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9 thoughts on “Mythbusting or Mythmaking?

  1. Sandy Teal

    Someone should look at their EIS predictions to see what they predicted and how it went wrong.

    Surely all those 1980s EIS statements knew the world would run out of oil by 2015 and everyone would be taking public transit by now. Every planner was very proud about how they were preparing the minions for the future they could see coming.

  2. Frank

    Will see if the Antiplanner posts tomorrow about today’s Amtrak derailment south of Tacoma. Was in Portland arguing with people at a bar about this. They said it was due to poor infra spending; even as the blood is not even dry, they’re happy to politicize this event. I pointed out that this was new or at least recently revamped infra, so that argument is a non starter. They went on to talk about Europe and their rail, and thanks to the AP, I know that argument is full of crap as rail ridership in Europe is a minority of all modes, and that serious accidents (caused by train drivers) happen there, too. Having disrupted the uber liberal taking points, I was not embraced, but being the generous libertarian, I am, I bought everyone a pint on my way out.

  3. the highwayman

    Thanks Frank, but I don’t have Asperger’s Syndrome, that would mean that I only look at stuff in a bubble, though bizarrely enough that better describes you.

    Tragically there was a bus crash where 12 people died for that matter.

    Yet the objective of you teahadi’s is to steal/destroy things and to screw people over :$

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