A closer look at transit ridership around LA County

The proportion of commuters who use mass transit to get to work varies wildly across the Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area (which encompasses Los Angeles and Orange Counties). Source: 2000 U.S. Census.

Last week, The Source mentioned an Australian study that concluded that perhaps the connection between higher density and transit use was not as robust as previously thought. The study authors also suggested that Los Angeles was a prime example of their theory: a dense city with “relatively low rail and bus use.” I think that suggestion merits a closer look.


For starters, what’s relative? Across Los Angeles County, 7.3 percent of people over the age of 16 ride mass transit to commute to work. That is certainly below many older cities and counties with more miles of fixed rail than Los Angeles. These cities include Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York — where in the New York-White Plains metro area 44 percent of commuters use mass transit. But the percentage in L.A. County is still above the national average of five percent who use transit to get to work. And it’s similar to the percentages in some metro areas that are about the same size as massive L.A. County.

Secondly, as the following map illustrates, the proportion of residents who ride mass transit to work varies wildly across the Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area, as defined by the Census Bureau. Noticeably, the densest parts of L.A. also contain high proportions of transit commuters. Here are some examples from randomly chosen Census Block groups around L.A.: UCLA, 41%; Hollywood, 39%; Downtown, 59%; Koreatown, 64%; MacArthur Park, 67%; the area southeast of the 10 and 110, 85%.

Source: 2000 Census data.

And take a closer look at the maps below: you’ll see there are many pockets outside L.A.’s densest areas which contain high concentrations of transit ridership; These areas include the Van Nuys Boulevard corridor in the San Fernando Valley and parts of Santa Ana, Anaheim and Garden Grove in Orange County.

Perhaps density is not the best way to predict how many people ride transit, as the Australian study concludes. But the suggestion that L.A. is a dense city with poor transit ridership is an oversimplification and downplays the complexity of transit riding habits and patterns in our city and region.

Close-up of transit use in the San Fernando Valley. Source: 2000 U.S. Census.

Close-up of transit use in Orange County. Source: 2000 U.S. Census.

Interested in seeing more?

If you have Google Earth, you can download the KMZ file I used to create the maps here and take a spin for yourself. Click around to see all sorts of demographic data from individual Census block groups in Los Angeles and Orange counties. Note: The data is from 2000, so be on the lookout for more recent data analysis in the future when the Census Bureau releases its new version of the American FactFinder.

13 replies

  1. @MK – there is some truth to that statement, however, that does not explain ucla, koreatown, hollywood and downtown. these happen to be areas i go frequently and i use the subway cause it is more convenient and much cheaper than parking structure rates. these areas are not poor and most of us using the subway do so for convenience and reduced cost.


  2. Santa Monica would be another good example, going along with the ones Joshua gave. The Big Blue Bus is a comprehensive mass transit system that covers the entire city and key outlying areas, has an understandable fare system (30 day cards that start on the day you first use them; cash purse options, 13-ride option) and runs frequently and they have a huge ridership. People in Santa Monica do take the bus, and it’s not just the poor folks, because mass transit has proven to be a viable option.

    New York would be another good example. You’ll find plenty of well-off people in NYC who spent $2000 or $3000 a month on their apartment rent and rely on mass transit, because it’s there for them.