- Americans took 9.9 billion public transit trips in 2018, a 2% decrease from 2017, according to a report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
- Bus ridership fell 1.84%, light rail (streetcars, modern trolleys, heritage trolleys) fell 2.98% and heavy rail (subways and elevated trains) fell 2.6%. Commuter rail was the only mode with a ridership increase at 0.41%.
- Of the 31 large and small city transit systems included in APTA's data, 20 experienced year-over-year ridership losses, nine experienced gains and two did not have data available.
APTA's data mirrors other associations' and federal data that indicate overall decreases in transit ridership the past several years. Data released in the fall from the U.S. Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey showed that citizens' commutes became longer and in 2017, nearly 12,000 fewer commuters used public transportation.
A recent KPMG report suggests that transit agencies embrace industry disruptions and cater to customers' changing tastes — namely, by moving away from fixed-route buses and toward new mobility options, or partnering with private companies who offer such services. It also suggested that transit agencies become more savvy with using rider data to determine where and when people need to travel to devise viable microtransit solutions.
"As people have more transportation options than ever before, public transportation systems around the country are experimenting with new programs and services to attract new riders," APTA President and CEO Paul Skoutelas said in a statement.
Transit agencies' recent actions would suggest more of them realize that customers want different services now than they did 20 years ago. Customers increasingly want convenience, which has led Los Angeles and St. Louis, MO to experiment with microtransit pilot programs. Others such as San Francisco and New York City are increasing convenience by upgrading to touchless fare payment systems that allow customers to scan mobile phones to pay. Phoenix and Charlotte, NC are among the cities that have partnered with ride-hailing services for customer discounts on first mile/last mile transportation to and from transit stops, with a similar plan under consideration in Washington, DC.
A recent TransitCenter study showed that most ridership dips are due to people cutting back their transit use, not abandoning it altogether. It indicates that most riders could be won back if transit systems invest in improvements.
An APTA report last year noted some areas where transit agencies are falling behind and suggested that they improve time competitiveness, strengthen customer loyalty, improve cost competitiveness and adapt to or work with partners to reverse external factors such as housing affordability and ride-hailing services.