Falling Transit Ridership: California and Southern California

Research Team: Michael Manville (lead), Evelyn Blumenberg, and Brian Taylor

UC Campus(es): UCLA

Problem Statement: Public transit ridership in metropolitan Los Angeles has fallen in absolute terms since 2010, which is a significant concern to transit and elected officials given the substantial financial commitment the region is making in new transit investments. The recent ridership trend has defied conventional economic explanation (i.e., the inverse correlation of ridership to income) and contributes to transit’s worsening productivity (i.e., ride per dollar invested).

Project Description: UCLA researchers explored multiple units of analysis over time to gain an understanding as to what explains the net loss of riders, whether it is a loss of existing riders or a failure to attract new ones or both. Researchers studied current riders and potential riders and focused on places that have disproportionately high transit use. Changes in transit fares and service were also investigated. Key findings from this study are:• Increased car ownership can likely explain much of the transit ridership decline in Southern California.• Car ownership has grown fastest among the most frequent transit riders.• Fuel prices, service changes, and rideshare use are not the likely drivers of ridership decline.• Californians who rarely ride transit represent great untapped potential.

Status: Completed

Budget: $58,500

Policy Brief(s):