Rail Transit Ridership in California: Lessons Learned from Station Area Assessments

Research Team: Daniel A. Rodriguez (lead), Susan Pike, Michael McNally, and Meiqing Li

UC Campus(es): UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine

Problem Statement: Emerging evidence shows that rail transit ridership has recuperated unevenly—at different rates in different places—as California has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. Stations that serve central business districts, for example, show slower gains in rail transit passengers compared to stations with mixed income residents and mixed uses in suburban locations. It is not yet clear what is causing this difference, but this disparity signals that post-COVID ridership will be different from what was observed in the past, and some station areas will likely need to develop strategies that account for this new reality.

Project Description: This project will examine ridership changes over time at 897 stations belonging to eight large public transit agencies in the United States, including important agencies in California such as BART, San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, and Caltrain. The researchers will associate these changes with differences in the built environment, socio-demographics, and rail network configurations, and then attribute these changes either to overall activity in the station area (e.g., decreases in trips, regardless of travel mode, ending in the area) or to behavioral changes specific to rail transit (e.g., avoidance of crowded vehicles). The project will provide information for rail transit agencies and local policy makers seeking to improve current rail station operations and future station planning and redevelopment efforts.

Status: In Progress

Budget: $60,000