Amid falling ridership in their transit systems, industry experts and US transit agencies have sought answers. They have put forth many explanations for declining transit use, with varying degrees of evidence and certainty. What’s clear is that agencies must understand local ridership decline to address it.
We used an online survey of respondents in seven regions, as well as focus groups in three regions, to explore the spectrum of factors influencing decisions to take transit. Respondents were asked to describe how they used transit and other modes now and two years ago.
Overwhelmingly, survey respondents who abandon or substantially scale back their transit use replace those trips with increased private car use. Respondents who reported an increase in access to a private car over the past two years said their transit use had fallen by more than seven days per month.
The private car is transit’s strongest competitor, but transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft are nibbling away at some transit trips, especially in dense cities such as Boston, Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
Moving has a large impact on transit use—and generally, low-income respondents are pushed farther from transit when they move, threatening their ability to use transit.
For urban transportation leaders, the most critical policy imperative is making opportunities accessible without a car. New transportation technologies, like TNCs, shared bikes and scooters, and autonomous vehicles dominate headlines about “the future of transportation.” But the most important transportation choice today’s mayors and agency leaders face is an old one: Do we build places where residents must use cars to get to most jobs, schools, and other destinations? Or, do we enable more people to meet their travel needs with public transit and a combination of other modes?