A New Resource for Tracking Transit Trends in American Cities

This graph, which is interactive at the Transport Politic, shows how heavy rail systems are faring across U.S. cities.
This graph, which is interactive at the Transport Politic, shows how heavy rail systems are faring across U.S. cities.

How does transit ridership in your city stack up against other cities? A new tool from transit analyst extraordinaire Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic can help you figure it out.

Freemark’s “databook” compiles a raft of data from the Census and the Federal Transit Administration into a series of graphs and tables that show trends in transit ridership in selected U.S. cities. Here you can see how bus ridership is floundering in many American cities (but not Seattle):

Chart: Transport Politic

Be sure to check out the site itself, which has several more charts and tables.

  • thielges

    If the San Francisco Bay Area Caltrain ridership were plotted here it would be the steepest trend on the chart. Caltrain doubled and then some since 2002: http://www.gjel.com/01new/media/Caltrain-Ridership-Trend.jpg

    Caltrain complements BART and serves the south and west sides of the bay, where there’s little BART service. I’d guess that the steep trend is due to in part the booming tech economy which clusters along the Caltrain corridor.

    Despite billions spent to increase parallel freeway capacity, they’re jammed solid during the rush hour and creates another motivation to use transit. Caltrain itself is at max rush hour capacity too and risks suffering from its success.

  • Joe Brant

    Wow! What is going on in Seattle? The only place to see bus ridership consistently increasing.

  • Peter Eskine

    So, if the Caltrain is at max rush hour capacity and risks suffering from its success, why would the same logic not apply to the parallel freeway capacity that also is suffering? If you build it they will come! Is the Caltrain ridership due to induced demand?

    You may want to plot/add new capacity (new stations, new lines?) to the Caltrain Average Weekday Ridership Trend graph. That may help to explain the increase.

  • thielges

    There have been no new stations or lines added since 2002 and service to some stations has been reduced. The number and length of weekday trains increased though

  • KJ

    Service was cut about five(?) years ago, but demand for Caltrain has grown. An additional car (six cars vs. five) was added to high-demand trains in this last year, so capacity was raised to 1000+ passengers per train and 50+ bikes.

  • Patrick Devine

    Caltrain has stops much closer together than BART does for its suburban runs. Closing and/or skipping certain stations made it so that you can get from a station like Palo Alto (2nd busiest station on the line) to SF in about 45 minutes or so, which greatly increased its appeal. With electrification and more frequency, the number of passengers will almost certainly double again by 2030.

  • neroden

    I would love to know what in God’s name happened in Miami. I haven’t been following it at all. Miami Metro ridership is WAY WAY up. Which is great. But why?!?

  • neroden

    The same logic would apply to freeways to a certain extent, yes. To a *certain extent* widening roads makes sense.

    The trouble is that for roads, widening becomes counterproductive very quickly. As cars swerve back and forth between lanes, each new lane adds less capacity than the last lane. And roads with more lanes see more crashes and deaths and so on and so on. And most importantly, lanes on freeways take up enormous amounts of land, displacing housing, displacing businesses, *destroying the very places you were trying to go*.

    By contrast, with railways, you can expand capacity massively, carrying more people than a freeway, within the land footprint of a two-track railway — about the same width as a small residential street with no parking. If you go to four tracks — a bit wider than a residential street with parking — you have monumental, humungous capacity, more than any freeway ever built.

    And if you really need to, you can build six tracks. This takes up about as much space as *half a freeway*, considering the typical freeway has a minimum of two lanes each way, hard shoulders on each side, a median, and soft shoulders on each side.

  • Casey Willits

    In 2012 Miami open the line to the airport. That’s probably most of the increase.


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