A transit agency can try to adapt to some of the factors that influence ridership, even though it cannot control all of them: auto-oriented land-use patterns, population and demographic shifts, economic growth or recession, local jurisdictions that fail to build sidewalks and make transit unreachable, and longstanding national policies that provide huge hidden subsidies to private cars, transit’s primary competition. Those external factors beyond an agency’s control create a challenging environment for transit. But an effective agency will do what it can to influence them in a more positive direction by recruiting allies in government who control zoning, street design, and transportation funding.
Reliability and frequency in corridors of great demand, connectivity, stop facilities, and cleanliness are service characteristics within the agency’s power to improve, and we found that they are important factors of rider satisfaction.
The survey finds that one major factor under agency control can either build or discourage ridership: the quality of the transit service itself. Reliability and frequency in corridors of great demand, connectivity, stop facilities, and cleanliness are service characteristics within the agency’s power to improve, and we found that they are important factors of rider satisfaction. And higher satisfaction with transit (one point on a five-point scale) is associated with higher transit use: almost one extra day a month, even controlling for age, home and work location, changes in income, and other demographic and household factors.
Quicker and more reliable bus trips require that the industry and its allies in local government increase their efforts for more bus-only lanes, bus-stop balancing, transit signal priority, all-door boarding, and other measures proven to speed up buses. Proactive and data-based dispatching practices can also improve bus-system reliability. Rail can also be affected by intrusions into the transit right-of-way. Several municipalities in the Boston area have deployed “pop-up” bus-only lanes, using cones and signs to reclaim parking space for buses. There is evidence that clean-sheet bus network redesigns, where bus routes are redrawn from scratch to respond to development changes and to emphasize high-frequency routes, correlate positively with ridership gains.
Relatively quick and inexpensive initiatives, like network redesigns and pilot bus lanes, can provide the public confidence needed to win the staffing capacity and funding for bigger improvements.
To promote their commitment to ridership growth, progressive transit agencies need to assert themselves in municipal zoning and other land-use processes, which are long-term determinants of transit demand. Transit agencies that care about long-run ridership growth also must be plugged in to a city’s housing policies.