What’s behind Recent Transit Ridership Trends in the Bay Area?

Research Team: Brian D. Taylor (lead), Evelyn Blumenberg, Jacob Wasserman, Mark Garrett, Andrew Schouten, Hannah King, Julene Paul, and Madeline Ruvolo

UC Campus(es): UCLA

Problem Statement: Public transit ridership has been falling nationally and in California since 2014. The San Francisco Bay Area, with the state’s highest rates of transit use, had until recently resisted those trends, especially compared to Greater Los Angeles. However, in 2017 and 2018 the region lost over five percent (>27 million) of its annual riders, despite a booming economy and service increases.

Project Description: This research project examines Bay Area transit ridership to understand the dimensions of changing transit use, its possible causes, and potential solutions. The researchers find that: 1) the steepest ridership losses have come on buses, at off-peak times, on weekends, in non-commute directions, on outlying lines, and on operators that do not serve the region’s core employment clusters; 2) transit trips in the region are increasingly commute-focused, particularly into and out of downtown San Francisco; 3) transit commuters are increasingly non-traditional transit users, such as those with higher incomes and automobile access; 4) the growing job-housing imbalance in the Bay Area is related to rising housing costs and likely depressing transit ridership as more residents live in less transit-friendly parts of the region; and 5) ridehail is substituting for some transit trips, particularly in the off-peak. Arresting falling transit use will likely require action both by transit operators (to address peak capacity constraints; improve off-peak service; ease fare payments; adopt fare structures that attract off-peak riders; and better integrate transit with new mobility options) and public policymakers in other realms (to better meter and manage private vehicle use and to increase the supply and affordability of housing near job centers).

Status: Completed

Budget: $16,610.41

Project Partner(s): Metropolitan Transportation Commission

Report(s):
What’s Behind Recent Transit Ridership Trends in the Bay Area? Volume I: Overview and Analysis of Underlying Factors
What’s Behind Recent Transit Ridership Trends in the Bay Area? Volume II: Trends among Major Transit Operators
Policy Brief(s):
Why is Public Transit Falling in the San Francisco Bay Area, and What Might be Done About It?
The Bay Area is Losing Transit Ridership — But Transit Commuting is Growing
Why is Bay Area Transit Ridership Falling?
What Can Be Done About Falling Transit Ridership in the Bay Area?