Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Trends in U.S Public Transit Use 1970 to 2000

Which U.S cities have a rising share of workers commuting using public transit? Consider Philadelphia. In 1970, 23% of workers in this city commuted using public transit but by the year 2000 this share has fallen to 11%. What role has rising income, suburbanized employment and population suburbanization played in increasing the share of car commuters?


Here are the important cross-city by decade facts about public transit. Overall, the national reduction in public transit in big metro areas declined from 12% to 6% between 1970 and 2000.

1 comment :

Rick said...

Kudos for a valuable piece of research.

I’ve long observed that many of the new transit systems built in the last 30 years have been white elephants that simply can’t compete with cars. Many of these systems are slow circuitous street-level routes with too many stops and snail-like service. San Jose’s light rail system has always struck me as particularly egregious example and your research more or less confirms that it is.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this paper was the brief reference to the FTA’s New Starts program and its tendency to understate costs and overestimate ridership. Though the New Starts program funding criteria ostensibly is designed to identify cost-effective high-ridership projects, your paper (indirectly) suggests that it has funded a significant number of inefficient and unnecessary projects.

While this paper’s analysis considers factors such as urban density, proximity to transit, household income, etc., perhaps the logical extension of this research would be to compare the actual performance characteristics among transit systems (i.e., average speed, frequency, train travel time versus vehicle travel time, etc.). This might offer the best indication about what makes some transit systems cost-effective and others expensive white elephants.