Transit’s February Numbers

Nine out of the top ten and forty out of the top fifty urban areas saw transit ridership decline in February, 2018 compared with the previous February, according to the latest data posted by the Federal Transit Administration. That’s slightly worse than in January: When compared with 2017, ridership in Buffalo, Denver, and Portland had grown slightly in the first month of 2018 but shrank in the second, which is slightly offset by Providence ridership growing in February after having declined in January.

The other regions seeing ridership grow are Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, Seattle, San Diego, Riverside-San Bernardino, Las Vegas, San Jose, Hartford, and Raleigh. However, all of these regions except Seattle saw ridership decline in 2017, so the growth trend may be short-lived.

The declines are much more spectacular than the growth. While Los Angeles ridership grew by just 0.6 percent, Chicago lost 5.6 percent of its riders. San Francisco-Oakland did better with 6.9 percent growth, but Dallas-Ft. Worth lost 14.3 percent. Ridership in Seattle, which has been the only major urban area with consistent growth, grew by just 1.8 percent, but Portland ridership declined by the same percentage. Houston, which supposedly benefitted from a restructured bus system, saw ridership fall by 5.0 percent.

As in previous monthly updates, the Antiplanner has posted an enhanced spreadsheet with annual totals in columns GV through HL, totals for major modes in rows 2112 through 2117, transit agency totals in rows 2110 through 3119, and totals for the 200 largest urban areas in rows 3122 through 3321.

The data show that nationwide ridership was 2.0 percent less in February 2018 than in 2017. February 2017 and February 2018 both had the same number of work days so the calendar can’t be blamed for the decline.

Bus ridership fell by 3.4 percent, compared with 2.0 percent for light rail, 0.5 percent for heavy rail, and a rare increase of 0.7 percent for commuter rail. Streetcar ridership fell by 4.7 percent, partly because a couple of systems began charging for previously free rides but more because the bulk of streetcar riders are in just two cities, Philadelphia and New Orleans, both of which saw substantial declines.

The fact that bus ridership is falling faster than rail has led some to speculate that rail is a better way of attracting and keeping riders. But the reality is that bus ridership is partly falling because the high cost of rail has forced many agencies to cut back on bus service. Bus vehicle-revenue miles declined by 5.2 percent between February 2017 and February 2018, explaining much of the 4.7 percent ridership decline.

Rail certainly offers no immunity from decline. Phoenix has claimed that its light-rail program is a great success, yet it saw ridership fall by 6.8 percent, while Las Vegas, which has focused on buses, saw ridership grow by 0.5 percent. Charlotte has been patting itself on the back for building light rail, yet it saw ridership decline by a staggering 20.0 percent. Meanwhile, Raleigh, which pointedly rejected light rail, enjoyed a 7.3 percent increase in ridership. Charlotte will be worth watching in March and April, when the numbers from its latest light-rail extension kick in.

These numbers provide no comfort to the transit industry. Instead, many are simply ignoring them, with Atlanta, Austin, Los Angeles, Nashville, Portland, and others continuing to plan expensive new rail transit lines despite the failure of the rail systems that already exist in these regions. The industry needs to undergo some revolutionary thinking if it is to do anything more than be a deadweight around taxpayers’ necks.

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6 thoughts on “Transit’s February Numbers

  1. LazyReader

    The fact I get flak and hate utilizing this data on Streetsblog Disqus pages brings me no better sense of glee. Because the ones isolated in their bubble. Their motto “Informing the movement to improve walking, biking and transit”
    Transportation beyond the distance or speed of walking has been a desire in cities as long as we’ve had………cities. 2nd we’re not against walking, biking or transit. It’s the plans the upper echelon deciders have put out when simpler, cheaper methods exist.

    In Plato’s ancient dialogue “Critias” in ancient times, The gods treated the humans in their districts much as shepherds treat sheep, tending and guiding them like nurselings and possessions. They did this not by force, but by persuasion. How fitting that’s how governments manipulate people today. By persuading people their methodology is more “Moral” Who do they expect will pay for the 100 billion needed to restore the subways, lightrails, skytrains now?”
    This is yet another cost of high density that the planners don’t like to talk about, before Al Gore warned us about he planet boiling, before he even ran for president during his VP years he had attended ALL the Congress of new urbanism meetings, smart growth seminars and I wont bring up Agenda 21…..but basically Smart Growth was left out of the political campaign, You dont piss off 150 million suburban voters by telling them their way of life was abysmal and responsible for our [insert societal problem].

    While city dwellers have complained about traffic since……cities have been around. This anti automobile stuff only started in the 60’s with Jane Jacobs and the highway revolts.
    Cities are the perfect environment for the electric automobiles, even the ones with the shortest ranges can traverse any US city before having to charge and charging stations are no bigger than a parking meter.
    Chevrolet Volt (2nd Generation): 53 miles (not including range extension engine)
    Chevrolet Bolt: 238 miles
    Nissan Leaf (2nd gen): 150 miles
    Hyundai Ioniq: 124 miles
    BMW i3: 114 miles
    Smart FourTwo: 58 miles
    Honda Fit EV: 82 miles

  2. C. P. Zilliacus

    LazyReader wrote:

    This is yet another cost of high density that the planners don’t like to talk about, before Al Gore warned us about he planet boiling, before he even ran for president during his VP years he had attended ALL the Congress of new urbanism meetings, smart growth seminars and I wont bring up Agenda 21…..but basically Smart Growth was left out of the political campaign, You dont piss off 150 million suburban voters by telling them their way of life was abysmal and responsible for our [insert societal problem].

    Speaking of Al Gore, I do think that global climate change is a problem and I also believe that carbon emissions are at least part of the problem.

    But having said that, I wish that the transit agencies that operate the “clean electric” subways and commuter trains, light rail vehicles, streetcars and in a few cases electric buses would come clean about the source(s) of the “clean” electric power that they use to propel those vehicles, as well as to heat and cool them when needed.

    I suspect that much of the traction power for transit (especially in the East, where there is not much hydroelectric generation) comes from the dirtiest coal-fired generating stations (one example in West Virginia here) for one simple reason – it tends to be the cheapest baseload power available on the grid, and in a deregulated (in many states) market for electric power, that’s where the transit agencies are going to purchase power, in spite of what transit agencies, transit advocates and transit advocacy groups claim are the environmental benefits of electric-powered transit.

  3. Hugh Jardonn

    I’ll believe global warming is a problem when the rich fat-cats telling us it’s a problem begin acting like it’s a problem. They can start by knocking off the large mansions, private jets and limousines. Stop jet-setting off to global warming junkets in exotic locales. Did anybody notice all those Gulfstreams at Davos?

  4. LazyReader

    First of all, let me be clear I do believe in Anthropogenic climate change. The percentage however of what’s our responsibility is still questionable.
    Second study the Earth’s climate over the last 10,000 years. It’s a roller coaster of up and down warming cooling cycles. But for the most part it was sliding down towards a cooling trend. Which anyone who studies history, is bad. Then look at it after the Industrial revolution, humanity reversed what would have been another short one-two century cool period. Even if humanity did not pollute, or even exist it there would have been a cooling trend somepoint between1700s-1800s followed by a 20th century warming trend, a cooling trend by the 21st century and still have been another warming trend at some point in the 22nd-23rd century, human intervention only exacerbated what would have already occurred anyway.

  5. Sandy Teal

    From the NY Times Nov 6, 2017:

    Under the Paris deal, each country put forward a proposal to curtail its greenhouse-gas emissions between now and 2030. But no major industrialized country is currently on track to fulfill its pledge, according to new data from the Climate Action Tracker. Not the European Union. Not Canada. Not Japan. And not the United States, which under President Trump is still planning to leave the Paris agreement by 2020.

    Worse, even if governments do take further steps to meet their individual pledges, the world will still be on pace to warm well in excess of 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the threshold that world leaders vowed to avoid in Paris because they deemed it unacceptably risky.

  6. LazyReader

    Before coal became widely available, wood was used not just for heating homes but also for industrial processes; it was the predominant energy source for humanity. Even if half the land surface of Britain had been covered with woodland we could have made 1.25 million tonnes of bar iron a year (a fraction of current consumption) and nothing else. Even with a much lower population than today’s, manufactured goods in the land-based economy were the preserve of the elite. Deep green energy production – decentralised, based on the products of the land – is far more damaging to humanity than nuclear meltdown. If Europe shuts down their nuclear plants it will not be water, wind or sun, but fossil fuel and imported wood chips to run their industrial society. It’s THAT or reverting back to a pre-industrial society. On every measure (climate change, mining impact, local pollution, industrial injury and death, even radioactive discharges) coal is 100 times worse than nuclear power and wood is worse than coal. So nuclear is what were gonna have to endorse.
    Nuclear’s biggest advantage besides the fact it doesn’t atmospherically pollute. A kilowatt-hour worth of coal fired electricity produces about 2.07 lbs of CO2 or over a million tons per terawatt-hour. The nuclear plant in my home state produces 14.9 Terawatt-hours per year; preventing over 15 million tons of CO2 per year or over half a billion tons over the last 40 years. The US nuclear industry keeps 830 million tons of CO2 out of the air annually. The other thing is the power density and 24/7 reliability a Nuclear reactor takes up a few acres of land and on it’s size produces about 10-20 terawatt-hours per year; a wind farm capable of that much would cover 200,000 acres or 250,000 acre solar farm.

    Were 7 billion people; were gonna be 9 billion by 2050 and they’re moving to cities from the villages, the world is now 50% urban, up from 14% in 1900, it’s gonna be 60% urban people by 2030, and 80% urban by 2050 that’s 7 BILLION people living in cities and with it a appetite for city living means 24/7 power demand And they cant rely on combustion for heating, cooking, light and transportation they’ll need electric power and that’s either gonna come from COAL or Nuclear. Even worse is the demographics of energy resources. About 80% of the worlds fossil fuel reserves are in Third World countries. 90% of the worlds oil is produced thru state run/owned oil companies like Saudi Aramco, Sinopec, Petrobras, etc. While the US may continue to produce energy for itself or export it does not bode well for Europe or China. Thanks to Justin Trudeau, India is now accepting oil from OPEC rather than build pipelines that would allow Canadian crude to flow to India. Canada liberals have made India…….in the arms of the most politically unstable region in the world. And renewable energy’s outlook for future growth does not bode well. When you hear 13.6% renewables, you will likely think ‘wow, things are going pretty well with the change-over to renewables’. But these are not the ones you hear about. The biggest contributor is wood, used in the poor world to cook and keep warm. This leads to terrible indoor air pollution – it is actually the world’s deadliest environmental problem, killing some 4.3 million people each year. We should definitely hope the poor will have to use *less* polluting wood in the future.

    The other main contributors of renewables are biofuels (e.g. the American forests, cut down and shipped across the Atlantic to be burnt in European power plants to be called green and CO2 neutral) and hydropower. In total, that makes up 12.1%. The last 1.5% comes mostly from geothermal energy (0.54%) and wind turbines (0.53%) along with solar heaters in China, tidal power etc. (0.29%) and solar panels (0.13%). Contrary to the weight of news stories on how solar and wind is taking over the world, solar panels and wind turbines really make up a very small part of the global energy mix. And the geopolitical landscape of weaponizing nations such as India, China the MidEast; not to mention the Third World. Mix culturally backwards, politically unstable nations who have a steady supply of Soviet/Chinese manufactured weapons they freely sell or distribute, combined with energy resources as a weapon. It’s a Tom Clancy novel………it’s a grim future. Climate change is the least of our worries.

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