Poll results: is transit attracting enough new riders?

Results of The Source's poll of transit riders.

A few weeks back I noticed an interesting chart on the America Public Transportation Association [APTA] website on how long people had been riding transit. The chart was compiled using data provided by local agencies across the U.S.

In particular, I was struck by their numbers showing that a lot of people — about 30 percent of people surveyed nationally — had been riding transit continuously for one year or less. That suggests that for whatever reason(s), people are willing to try transit.

I posted a similar poll on The Source. As of Thursday, there were 364 responses and the results are above. That’s not exactly overwhelming and certainly not scientific.

With those caveats, it’s still intriguing to compare our numbers to the numbers from APTA. In our poll, about 15 percent of those who responded said they had been riding transit continuously for a year or less and 70 percent had been riding continuously for two years or more.

In other words, there seems to be about twice as many relative newcomers to transit nationally than there are for Metro based on these two surveys.

What’s this mean? Two medium-sized thoughts:

1. I’m not entirely persuaded that almost a third of transit riders in the U.S. are newcomers to transit; here are some issues raised by the California Transit Assn. Likewise, I’m guessing that our poll’s numbers reflect that The Source’s readership is biased toward longtime transit riders  (not that I’m complaining!). In other words, there’s always the chance both surveys are flawed and this means nothing.

2. If the numbers in any way reflect that Metro isn’t attracting new riders at the national pace, my best guess is that it’s because Metro’s transit network still has some big holes to fill.

In particular, there’s no rail to the Westside, the part of Los Angeles County with the second-most number of jobs outside of downtown L.A. and UCLA, which attracts students from across the region. Nor, of course, is USC connected to the rail system yet — although that will soon change with the opening of the first phase of the Expo Line and its three stations in the Exposition Park area.

I think the college angle is important because young people, in my view, are probably less likely to be married to their cars and more likely to give transit a try. Other Measure R projects will also serve some local colleges: the Gold Line Foothill Extension will have a stop adjacent to Citrus College and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa. Expo Line Phase 2 should have good bus connections to Santa Monica College. And

What are your thoughts? Is Metro doing enough to attract and keep new riders? Leave a comment please.

4 replies

  1. I was at a bus stop and the lady bus driver was soooo rude. I said good morning and asked q question and did not respond to my inquiry. The bus system alrdy barely works and the customer service is dire. They are State of California employed and have to reprsent a Government service.

  2. I agree with Connor. When the bus only runs once every 30 or 50 minutes, it’s a lot more feasible to drive. When the bus stops running at 11 and you don’t have a safe way to get home via mass transit, it’s more feasible to drive. People want to get to their destinations quickly and easily; they don’t want to have to dedicate hours on end to get from Point A to Point B.

  3. One problem is that there are too many bus lines that run at more than 30 minute head ways which is a recipe for driving away choice ridership. Its simply too long to wait especially when compared to the frequency of the rail lines and the orange line bus. I know there is a 15 minute map, but its somewhat deceptive because it seems to only be during the weekdays and during rush hour. A real 15 minute map would mean that every single bus shown would be running at the same or higher frequency as the rail lines without faltering at all hours of the day (except owl hours) 7 days a week. Also, it should be perfectly reasonable to expect that all metro buses that connect directly to rail stations have a frequency of 15 minutes or less. Having that kind of network frequency would be sure to increase ridership.

  4. This poll doesn’t even try to determine who is willing to give transit a try or how many new riders… it’s about “continuous” ridership. The term isn’t defined by the poll, so it’s likely that a lot of riders who used to ride transit regularly before their job moved to a transit-inaccessible location, and who still ride now and then but not “continuously”, didn’t see an option on the poll that they could respond to.

    It’s hard to capture what you’re looking for in a single-response poll. You want to see who has tried transit for the first time and how long ago, and how many of those people kept riding. It’d also be interesting to parse out occasional riders from regular riders. Occasional riders are your best target market for expansion; if you can make transit that serves them better, they WILL ride it.