2017: The Year in Transit

The year 2017 has been a nightmare for transit agencies across the nation. Transit carried fewer riders in the first ten months of 2017 than in the same months in 2016 in 46 of the nation’s 50 largest urban areas.

According to the latest data posted by the Federal Transit administration, the transit industry carried 1.4 percent more transit riders in October, 2017 than in the same month the year before. However, most of this growth was due to a 6.6 percent recovery of transit ridership in the New York urban area; subtract New York and national ridership fell by 2.3 percent.

After New York, the five largest urban areas–Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, and Dallas-Ft. Worth–all saw continued declines in ridership. Houston ridership grew by 8.1 percent, possibly indicating that Houston’s 2015 bus reforms are still paying off but perhaps also because so many automobiles were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. Seattle ridership grew by 5.3 percent, Detroit’s by 6.4 percent, and small gains were also posted in the Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Portland, and a few other urban areas. But October ridership declined in 36 of the top 50 urban areas.

Charlotte, supposedly a light-rail success story, saw October ridership fall by a staggering 17.5 percent from the previous October, contributing to a 9.0 percent decline in the year to date. October ridership fell by 14.2 percent in Cleveland, 13.0 percent in Sacramento, and 10.4 percent in Milwaukee. Although the American Public Transportation Association claims that top transit officials aren’t much worried about recent ridership declines, they should be, especially if they are from one of these cities.

The reasons for the declines vary somewhat from region to region, but the growth of ride-sharing services seems to play an important role. Deteriorating infrastructure definitely played a role in New York, Washington, and a few other urban areas. Cuts to bus service to pay for expensive new rail lines are a big factor in Los Angeles, Charlotte, and other areas that have recently opened light-rail lines.

Rail transit didn’t seem to make a consistent difference to overall ridership. The gains in San Francisco and Boston were due mainly to buses, as both light and heavy rail lost riders in those two regions in October. In Los Angeles and Charlotte, rail ridership grew but bus ridership fell by more.

FTA’s raw data shows monthly ridership by mode and transit agency since 2002. As usual, I’ve posted a version modified to include annual totals and totals by transit agency (starting on row 2100) and for the 200 largest urban areas (starting on row 3300). Columns HL through HO show ridership gains or losses over various periods such as October 2017 vs. 2016 or January-October 2017 vs. 2016, 2014, and 2010.

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6 thoughts on “2017: The Year in Transit

  1. LazyReader

    Transit’s steady decline is due to several factors that make it disadvantageous to autos.
    1: Transit doesn’t duel accommodate passengers and freight the way roads can.
    2: Compared with the degree of personal safety and privacy of automobiles; crime, sexual harassement, graffiti, unpleasant odors, hygiene, invasions of privacy and depraved acts like masturbation and public defecation and urination are ubiquitous on public transit worldwide
    3: Most transit models are hub/spoke models that begin in the downtown or core, not point to point
    4: Many systems are billions in deferred maintenance yet wish to spend money on new system lines

    I got into a heated debate about traffic in Baltimore….how to alleviate it’s problems but my arguments
    – Charge drivers congestion fees in it’s most congested streets, particularly during Rush Hour which the money can be used to repair Baltimore’s badly maintained roads
    – Improve traffic signal coordination
    – Deregulate the transit industry and allow people to use their cars to move people outside the scope of taxis
    – Convert Baltimore County’s HOV lanes into HOV/HOT lanes
    – offer tax incentives for residents who use their cars to shuttle people.
    – Let private engineering firms build their own tunnels and toll lanes and charge people the right to use them.
    – Encourage urban cycling, 1,000 cyclers means 1,000 fewer cars
    – Cancel the Purple Line rail project, 5.6 Billion

  2. the highwayman

    Trains can move both people and freight.

    Plenty of crime and disgusting behaviour also involves automobiles.

    The USA has had 100,000+ miles of rail line stolen since WWI. Roads are not expected to be profitable to survive :$

  3. the highwayman

    CR; Non sequitur. it’s YOUR car. No one else has to put up with it.

    What about those people in New York that were murdered by a jihadi in a truck? :$

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