Sources of and Gaps in Data for Understanding Public Transit Ridership

Research Team: Brian D. Taylor (lead) and Jacob Wasserman

UC Campus(es): UCLA

Problem Statement: The National Transit Database (NTD) maintained by the Federal Transit Administration is an invaluable source of comparative data on public transit systems, but it is far from a complete one. In particular, the NTD tells us a lot about public transit services provided by system and mode, as well as their cost. But other than the number of unlinked trips (i.e., total boardings on an individual vehicle) made by transit users, NTD provides very little data on public transit users. In addition, new transportation services, like Transportation Network Companies and dockless mobility services, may be both complementing and competing with traditional public transit services, but data on the extent and use of these services are sorely lacking. This lack of data relevant to public transit inhibits our ability to understand and optimize the use of these systems.

Project Description: This project presents and reviews the available sources of data on public transit riders and ridership, as a resource for those who manage or simply wish to understand U.S. transit. In conducting this review, the researchers consider the advantages and disadvantages of publicly available data on transit from a variety of public and private sources, as well the relatively scarcer and less available sources of data on other providers of shared mobility, like ride-hail services, that compete with and complement public transit and pieces missing from the transit analytics pie. Data gaps both align with existing inequities and enable them to continue, unmeasured, as the COVID-19 pandemic has made closing these gaps all the more important.

Status: Completed

Budget: $5,000

Policy Brief(s):