Recent Decline in Public Transportation Ridership: Analysis, Causes, Responses

After years of increasing transit ridership that culminated in 2014 with record levels, public transportation agencies throughout the United States have been losing riders for the past 4 years. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) released a paper in April 2018 stating that, "recent declines in public transportation ridership have prompted a discussion on the factors influencing and causing those declines, and the steps public transit agencies should take to change the ridership trend." Decreases in transit ridership are occurring at a time when the U.S. population and its economy are both growing, and the majority of this growth is occurring in major cities and metropolitan areas. While in the past these growth trends have been associated with increases in transit ridership, recent declines in ridership are evident in both transit ridership per capita and per revenue hour of service. It is likely that numerous factors, both external and internal to public transportation agencies, are working in combination and affecting different communities, and parts of communities, in different ways and to different degrees. Sorting this out will be a complex challenge. The public transportation industry is aware of this challenging situation but lacks conclusive findings on the factors affecting recent transit ridership declines and strategies to pursue to increase ridership or mitigate further declines. A variety of strategies are being considered by transit agencies that include changes to fare policy, services, technology, information, and partnerships. Some public transportation agencies are exploring a transformation to become a mobility manager, responsible for integrating various local mobility options. The objectives of this research are to (1) help public transportation agencies better understand changes in ridership under specific operating circumstances, (2) identify and compare strategies to increase ridership or mitigate declines in specific service areas or corridors, and (3) develop clear guidance on how public transportation agencies can apply these research findings. The final deliverable from this project should present information that will be useful to public transportation agencies on the factors affecting transit ridership in specific operating environments; identify strategies that have been implemented and are being considered to address ridership trends; and address the outcomes, when possible. The final deliverable should present trends and cross-cutting insights that will inform and benefit transit agencies rather than focusing on specific transit agency performance. The guidance should help public transportation agencies apply the research findings and conclusions.


  • English


  • Status: Proposed
  • Funding: $400000
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project A-43

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Transit Cooperative Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC    20001

    Federal Transit Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Project Managers:

    Schwager, Dianne

  • Start Date: 20190318
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 0

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01667912
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project A-43
  • Files: TRB, RiP
  • Created Date: Apr 30 2018 3:14PM