The American Public Transportation Association has published some of the data for its 2017 Public Transportation Fact Book — though not, so far, the fact book itself. If, like the Antiplanner, you are a data junkie, the data is the important part anyway.
The new data, formally titled Appendix A, consists of a spreadsheet containing 136 tables of historical information on ridership, service levels, costs, fares, energy consumption, and other information broken down, where available, by mode through 2015. Although these data are based on the National Transit Database, the numbers are slightly different from my totals, but it is good to have a long-term set of numbers that come from a more-or-less consistent methodology.
The numbers show that, when compared with 2014, ridership in 2015 fell by 1.4 percent and passenger miles fell by 1.7 percent. But vehicle-miles of service grew by 0.8 percent, so boardings per vehicle-mile dropped by 1.9 percent. Operating costs grew by 2.1 percent, but fares grew by 3.9 percent (which only covered a portion of the growth in operating costs). Fares per trip grew by 4 percent, which probably didn’t help ridership.
Going back a few decades, the data show that, before most of the nation’s transit systems were municipalized in the 1960s, fares kept pace with operating costs. After municipalization, operating costs grew twice as fast as fares, partly because the number of workers paid to move a billion transit riders more than doubled. As a result, transit is meeting its political goal of transferring money from taxpayers to special interest groups, but it isn’t meeting its social goal of providing cost-effectively mobility.
Transit’s capital productivity — the number of riders carried per dollar spent on capital improvements — has similarly fallen by at least 50 percent, thanks mainly to the rail construction boom. Despite transit’s recent declines in almost every major urban area but Seattle, people in places such as Indianapolis that haven’t yet wasted a billion dollars or so on rail transit are looking wistfully at the idea of building a light-rail boondoggle in their city.
The fact book’s Appendix B, which shows the latest ridership data by transit agency and urban area, has not yet been updated, so still has 2014 data. Appendix C is a very useful spreadsheet that presents populations, land areas, and densities of all urbanized areas from the decennial censes for 1950 through 2010. It won’t need to be updated until the 2020 census is completed.
The data from appendix C show that New York-Northeastern New Jersey was the nation’s densest urban area by far in 1950, but the growth of low-density suburbs there has reduced its density by 45 percent. Due to growth management, the density of the Los Angeles-Anaheim urban area has grown by 53 percent, and it is now the densest urban area, being 32 percent denser than New York-NE New Jersey. Transit ridership is much higher in New York than Los Angeles, showing that overall population density is less important than job densities, as Manhattan as 2 million jobs in 7 square miles while downtown Los Angeles only has about 140,000 jobs and isn’t even the biggest employment center in the region.