November 2017 Ridership Falls 1.9 Percent

Nationwide transit ridership in November 2017 was 1.9 percent lower than the same month in 2016, while ridership for the first eleven months of 2017 was 2.5 percent lower than the same period in 2016. If similar numbers are posted for December, then total annual ridership will have fallen below 10 billion trips for the first time since 2010.

These numbers are from the Federal Transit Administration’s November update to its National Transit Database. The update includes passenger trips, vehicle revenue miles, and vehicle revenue hours by month from January 2002 through November 2017, broken down by transit agency and mode. These numbers may be preliminary and might change slightly in later updates. These numbers are also for calendar years so will differ from the final 2017 report, which is based on each agency’s fiscal year.

As usual, I’ve uploaded an enhanced file that includes totals by year (starting in column GT), by transit agency (starting in row 2100), and for each of the 200 largest urbanized areas (starting in row 3100). Column HM shows the change in ridership in November 2017 vs. November 2016, while columns HN through HP show the change for the first eleven months of 2017 vs. 2010, 2014, and 2016.

For those who want to compare the impacts of service on ridership, I’ve performed the same calculations on the vehicle miles sheet. This reveals, for example, that Los Angeles Metro cut its bus service by 6.6 percent from the year before and lost 8.4 percent of its bus riders. Nationwide, bus service was 7.3 percent lower in November 2017 than November 2016, contributing to the 3.9 percent decline in bus ridership.

Few are immune from transit decline. Of the nation’s fifty largest urban areas, transit gained riders in the first eleven months of 2017 only in Houston (by a mere 0.01 percent), Phoenix (4.5%), Seattle (2.5%), Kansas City (0.2%), and New Orleans (0.4%). When compared with the first eleven months of 2014, ridership declined in Phoenix, Kansas City, and New Orleans, so there is little reason for any transit supporters outside of Seattle and Houston to be optimistic about the industry’s future.

The biggest year-to-date losers were Milwaukee (–11.9%), Albuquerque (–10.7%), Cleveland (–10.3%), Charlotte (–9.8%), Miami (–9.3%), Richmond (–8.7%), San Jose (–8.1%), Memphis (–7.5%), and Sacramento (–7.4%). Of the nation’s largest transit markets, Philadelphia lost 6.7 percent, Los Angeles 5.5 percent, Chicago 3.3 percent, Washington 3.2 percent, Boston 2.8 percent, San Francisco-Oakland 2.6 percent, and New York 0.7 percent.

All of these numbers are confirmed by the American Public Transportation Association’s latest ridership report, which includes data for the first three quarters of 2017. According to this report, 2017 ridership is 3.1 percent below that of 2016. APTA gets its numbers directly from transit agencies, some of which may not report to the Federal Transit Administration, so the exact numbers may be a little different.

As the Antiplanner has noted before, transit is declining for several reasons. In New York, Washington, and other regions with older rail systems, deteriorating infrastructure is reducing train reliability. Los Angeles, Dallas, and some other regions building new rail lines have cut bus service to pay for the rail construction, losing more bus riders than they gained in rail riders. While these are significant problems, ride sharing services are probably responsible for roughly half of transit declines. This is likely to accelerate, so ridership would continue to decline even if rail construction and maintenance could be fully funded without service cuts.

The transit lobby is eager to get what it regards as its fair share (meaning more than its fair share) of federal infrastructure spending. But Congress and the administration should be aware that transit declines are large and almost certainly irreversible.

This argues against any significant spending on transit infrastructure construction or rehabilitation in the next few years. Instead, it makes more sense to phase out dedicated transit infrastructure as it wears out and replace it with buses, which can use infrastructure shared with other vehicles.


3 thoughts on “November 2017 Ridership Falls 1.9 Percent

  1. LazyReader

    Transit is in decline because conventional rail transit is Monolithic an linear. People are not. Ten thousand people with a thousand different destinations cannot be satiated no matter how much you spend. If the train doesn’t take you there conveniently, you’re gonna take the bus, if the bus doesn’t you’re gonna drive. I said this in a prior post, built to a specific size, specific scale, specific timeframe. Look at transportation; Where as the automobile and the street grid are a cellular organism. Look up Dr. John von Neuman and his study of cellular automata; in comparative biology. A multicellular organism does not thrive on a fixed number of cells, instead it responds to stimuli by producing more cells to accommodate a need. The city is the organism, the cells are cars, personal demand is the stimuli. When the system encounters an effluent, it produces more cells (cars) to accomodate the stimuli (people needing to move) or produces special cells (mutli person vehicles like buses or vanpools) to accommodate specific circumstance. In nature all stimuli are confronted with the production of cells. If there’s more sunlight, more photosynthetic cells are produced, if there’s a surge in water, more water storage cells are produced. An automobile is small enough to travel to any destination; until we invent teleporters or practical jet packs…

    Government doesn’t respond to stimuli………..very well anyway. Often we don’t react to problems til they’ve become a crisis. They don’t respond to stimuli or demand they do respond to coercion.

    The transit lobby wants to get it’s fair share………….Fair share of What? They provide nothing in the way of actual transportation. They eat up lots of their funding thru political dealing at the behest of industry execs. 50 years ago a libertarian economist would say “Any industry that has to lobby is obsolete”, Today any industry that doesn’t lobby risks becoming obsolete. And Coercion or threat of force makes some businesses that don’t wanna actually participate in the lobbying process. Prior to the 90’s Microsoft spent virtually NOTHING bothering congress….today they spend close to 100 million dollars. Ancient wisdom there’s nothing more permanent than a temporary government program…….

  2. msetty

    A better name for “Lazy Reader” might be “Lazy Thinker.”

    Don’t be surprised when Uber, Lyft and similar wastes of VC money go bankrupt. Apparently you’re not aware of this At some point the VC funders WILL pull the plug.

    At some point, gasoline prices will stop falling. Of course, transit agencies also need to stop cutting bus service, which accounts for much of the ridership losses in the past few years.

  3. Frank

    Transit is a far bigger waste than voluntary VC transactions. If a form of transportation like Uber fails, value has still been added.

    Obsolete choo choo transit unfortunately isn’t allowed to fail, and taxpayers are forced to pay for it.

    Huge difference.

Leave a Reply