National transit ridership up 5 percent in first quarter of 2012

Below is the news release from the American Public Transportation Assn. — the Los Angeles area saw big gains in light rail and commuter rail ridership. That mirrors the gains in Metro’s rail ridership in April, although overall Metro ridership in April 2012 is down from April 2011 and April 2010 (complete ridership numbers here).

The APTA news release:

Public transportation ridership surged in the first quarter of 2012, as Americans took nearly 2.7 billion trips, an increase of 5.0% over the first quarter of last year, according to a report released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). This was the fifth consecutive quarter of U.S. public transit ridership increase, as 125.7 million more trips were taken than the first quarter of 2011.

All public transit modes saw increases and several saw significantly high increases.  Light rail use increased by 6.7 percent and heavy rail use increased by 5.5 percent. Some public transit systems throughout all the areas of the United States reported record ridership for the first quarter. (i.e. Ann Arbor, MI; Boston, MA; Charlotte, NC; Fort Myers, FL; Indianapolis, IN; Ithaca, NY;  New York, NY; Oakland, CA; Olympia, WA; San Diego, CA; and Tampa, FL).


“High gas prices were part of the reason for this large first quarter ridership increase,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy.  “More and more people are choosing to save money by taking public transportation when gas prices are high.

“As we look for positive signs that the economy is recovering, it’s great to see that we are having record ridership at public transit systems throughout the country.  In some regions of our nation, the local economy is rebounding and people are commuting to their new jobs by using public transportation,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy, noting that nearly 60 percent of trips taken on public transit are for work commutes.

Pointing out that there are multiple reasons for the high ridership increases in the first quarter, Melaniphy said, “There are a number of reasons why more Americans are using public transportation.  For example, public transportation systems are delivering better, reliable service and the use of real time technology, which many systems use, makes it easy for riders to know when the next bus or train will arrive.

“As Congress is negotiating a federal surface transportation bill that is now more than 2 1/2 years overdue, our federal representatives need to act before the June 30 deadline to ensure that public transportation systems will be able to meet the growing demand,” said Melaniphy. “It’s obvious from the surge in public transit ridership in the first quarter that Americans need and want public transportation.”

To see the complete APTA 2011 ridership report, go to:

2012 First Quarter Ridership Breakdown

Nationally, light rail (modern streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys) ridership increased 6.7 percent in the first quarter of 2012.  Twenty-five of twenty-seven light rail systems reported ridership increases.  The ten light rail systems with the highest rates of growth were located in the following cities:  Memphis, TN (45.7%); Salt Lake City, UT (34.1%); Seattle, WA – King County DOT (19.4%); Boston, MA (12.6%); Cleveland, OH (10.7%); Houston, TX (10.3%); Seattle, WA – Sound Transit (10.3%); Los Angeles, CA (9.9%); Sacramento, CA (8.5%); and St. Louis, MO (8.2%).

Fourteen out of fifteen heavy rail heavy rail (subways and elevated trains) systems reported ridership increases.  Overall, heavy rail ridership increased by 5.5 percent nationwide.  The ten heavy rail systems with the highest first quarter increases in ridership were in the following cities: Cleveland, OH (12.2%); San Francisco, CA (9.7%); Chicago, IL (8.9%); Baltimore, MD (7.8%); Boston, MA (6.4%); Jersey City, NJ (6.1%); New York, NY – MTA New York City Transit (5.6%); Lindenwold, NJ (4.7%); New York, NY – MTA Staten Island Railway (4.5%); and Miami, FL (4.2%).

Nationally, commuter rail ridership increased by 3.9 percent in the first three months of 2012 with twenty-two of twenty-seven commuter rail systems reporting ridership increases.  Five commuter rail systems in the following cities saw double digit increases in the first quarter: Anchorage, AK (43.8%); Oceanside, CA (19.2%); San Carlos, CA (15.0%); Portland, OR (11.1%); and Seattle, WA (10.8%).  The five commuter rail systems that reported the next highest increases were located in: New Haven, CT (9.7%); Stockton, CA (9.4%); Los Angeles, CA (8.9%); Salt Lake City, UT (8.5%); and Nashville, TN (8.4%).

Large bus systems reported an increase of 4.6 percent nationally.  Bus systems in the following cities showed the top ten increases: Saint Louis, MO (15.6%); Dallas, TX (11.9%); Arlington Heights, IL (11.1%); Boston, MA (10.6%); Oakland, CA (10.5%); Ft. Lauderdale, FL (8.7%); Newark, NJ (8.0%); San Antonio, TX (8.0%); Washington, DC (7.9%). and Cleveland, OH (7.8%).

Bus systems in urbanized areas with populations of two million or more grew at 4.5 percent.  Growing at an even higher rate of 5.1 percent were bus systems in urbanized areas with populations of 500,000 to just under two million.

Demand response (paratransit) ridership increased by 7.0 percent and trolleybus ridership increased by 3.8 percent.

19 replies

  1. @ Steven P

    WHAT? It is more certainly not a chicken or egg issue. The Population boom after WWII lead to an increase in density in Hong Kong which lead to the city financing the creation of the MTR which opened in 1979. I wish the commenters would do some research before making assumptive post.

  2. @Mospaeda

    And neither did Hong Kong wake up one day to find themselves with 7 million people living in that small area. Hong Kong started off with only 7,500 people back in 1841. Population actually decreased during WWII.

    It’s a chicken or the egg issue. You want densities to create more demand for public transit, but you won’t get the densities that they want unless there’s a sane transit policy. If you say densities play an important role in transit policies, I say transit policies play an important role in achieving the said densities.

    If you don’t make it cheaper (i.e. as an incentive) to travel shorter distances, whose going to be for living in a denser city?

  3. @ Steven P

    Urban density has alot to do with how successful transit system and how low their fares can be since by simple supply and demand the more people you can get to live in a smaller places the more potential customers a transit agency has access to i.e more demand which leads to prices going down. Right now most of LA is not even close to the types of densities found in Europe much less Asia so expecting cheap fares from a distance model seems really farfetched. If you want to see how distance fares are implemented in American Urban environments look at WMATA and BART and tell me that they are somehow cheaper.

  4. Here’s my take on this whole argument that’s being made on The Source these days.

    The fare system is indeed flawed and stupid. I look to an analogy of a flat rate system as paying $1.50 per entry or a flat rate unlimited $75 monthly pass to go to the neighborhood liquor store to get whatever you want from the shelf. If it’s going to cost $75 for unlimited amount of goods at the liquor store, I’ll just keep buying expensive booze. And like hell anyone is going to pay $1.50 per entry just to go get a five pack of mini-gums that used to cost 10 cents. Because of this, the liquor store just keeps losing money.

    We need to look ways to start cutting back taxes. The economy ain’t getting any better with more taxes and there’s no point in stealing more from what little we have left!

  5. Mospaeda,

    “All over the world” doesn’t mean “let’s cite only Europe examples.”

    There is no need to copy failing, socialist approach to public transit where they need huge bailouts when there’s a perfectly good, robust, capitalist approach to mass transit over in Asia.

    In that light, there needs to be direction away from our perception that only Europe knows what they are doing with transit. The lack of focus and attention on how Asia approaches mass transit is seriously lacking on The Source such as “What happening at other transit agencies” articles.

    LA is not Europe and we are not like the denser cities like on the East Coast. LA is LA. We have an entire mix of races, cultures, and ethnicities, and our city is vast whose populace have a need to do both short and long trips and everything in between.

    Just “copying Europe” and “copying East Coast” does not fit well into the urban landscape and lifestyle of LA. In city that is as big and diverse as LA, we need to incorporate something more than ideas used in Europe and the failures of applying East Coast logic to LA. And learning a thing or two about introducing cheap and affordable distance based fares, finding ways to increase revenues to reduce dependency on taxes for operations, and multimodal property development are good ideas that we can learn from Asian transit agencies.

  6. @Asian dude living in LA

    The fares Alec was most likely referring to were those found in Europe where the ticket for the shortest distance is around 2 U.S. dollars. Since the density of a majority of American cities are closer to Europe than they are to Asia I would say are fares are relatively cheap.

  7. Alec,

    Can you cite some examples of the cities from “all over the world” where they pay more for shorter rides than LA?

    For example, in Hong Kong, a short one stop 3 minute train ride from Tsim Sha Tsui to Jordan costs HKD 4.00 ($0.51) when paying by cash, or a discounted fare of HKD 3.80 ($0.49) when using the Octopus Card. Students, senior citizens and the disabled pay half that price.

    For longer trips, they pay more. From Central to Lo Wu which is a 59 minute journey costs HKD 43.50 ($5.60) when paying by cash or a discounted fare of HKD 40.80 ($5.25). Again, students, seniors, and the disabled pay ½ that price.

    In Singapore as well, shorter rides are cheaper than LA. A short 1 minute train ride on the North-South Line from Dhoby Gaut to Little India costs SGD 0.78 ($0.61) for adults, SGD 0.36 ($0.28) for children, and SGD 0.58 ($0.45) for seniors.

    As again, they pay more for longer distances. If going from end to end, say from Chiangi International Airport to Joo Koon on the East-West Line which is a 70 min train ride, adults pay SGD 1.96 ($1.52), children pay SGD 0.58 ($0.45), and seniors pay SGD 0.87 ($0.67).

    Both HKMTR and SMRT’s fare structure is based upon the “shorter trip-pay less, longer trip-pay more” concept. By paying less for shorter trips, it provides a means for people who has a need to do shorter trips to take mass transit than seek cheaper (free) alternatives like walking or biking. And, although it costs more for longer trips, it still is cheaper than taking a cab and faster than biking or walking, so it also persuade those that want to travel long distances to take transit as well.

    In contrast, if it costs $1.50 per ride no matter the distance like Metro does, people will just be persuaded to ride it as long as they can instead keep wasting a $1.50 on doing shorter trips. And why would anyone want to waste $5.00 on a day pass if all they need to do is travel 5 miles on two buses? They can save up that amount by biking and save the $5.00 for lunch.

  8. Here’s one right here. 🙂

    I never bothered to get a drivers license or buy a car. I was used to taking the bus.

    But then when gas prices started rising, everyone starting coming onto the bus that it became so crowded with so many people and the wait times has gotten longer. Often times, the bus driver would not let me on and just pass by me because the buses were too full.

    So I began to do cut down on my bus travelling and started doing my trips with a bicycle. It actually saved me a lot of money in monthly passes because I realized that after all these years, I didn’t really need to take the bus to get where I was going. It was just faster to start pedaling my bike and get going. Anything within 10 miles, I just biked. When I needed to go longer distances, I bought a day pass, but that was like only once every month or so.

    After a little more than two years of bicycling and losing 50 lbs, I had close to $2000 saved up since I didn’t buy Metro monthly passes anymore. I used that $2000 to become M1 licensed to operate a motorcycle and I ended up buying a scooter. Now I scoot my way everywhere; quick, fast, and cheap way to get around town than the crowded and slow bus.

  9. [TYPO REPORT: “Fourteen out of fifteen heavy rail heavy rail” …Not sure if this is an APTA error, but thought I’d mention it.]

  10. Metro made such a report available quite recently (though it evaluates a longer timeframe):

    It’s pretty clear that when Muni operators are factored in, there have – in fact – been significant increases in both bus and rail ridership throughout the county over the past decade and more.

    People take short trips on transit with higher costs than Los Angeles all over the world. Is there any real evidence that loss of short trips because of fixed ticket prices has had any significant effect on ridership?

  11. Actually looking at APTA data it shows that bus ridership actually increased by 2%, from 88 million in 2011 to 90 million daily passenger trips in 2012, in the quarter observed.

  12. Those figures do not include the Expo Line yet, do they?

    One thing to note, Los Angeles now has the second highest ridership for a LRT system, passing San Francisco.

  13. Metro has been schlepping some of its bus service to the local muni operators for some time now. It would be interesting to see if the loss in bus ridership in Metro has lead to an increase in ridership in the other bus operators in the region. Does anyone have any statistics on the daily ridership of the muni operators that happen to operate within or right next Metro’s service area?

    • If you have the interest, APTA website has yearly ridership numbers from many (but not all) transit agencies across the U.S. That should allow you to go back and see trends in some muni operators around L.A. County.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  14. Dennis,

    Transit ridership is up for longer trips, but people still seek alternatives than public transit for shorter trips. That’s why overall transit ridership is down. Just look at all the bus lines today. They’re so filled with people but it’s rare for people to make short, quick, on-and-off trips. Pretty obvious, why pay $1.50 for 1 mi of transit if they’re going to get a better deal to travel longer distances?

    It just doesn’t make sense to pay $3.00 for a roundtrip bus fare to go to a local Ralphs 3 miles away and come back just to buy a gallon of milk or whatever you can carry with your two hands.

    People will still end up driving to get to the nearest Ralphs or Costco and stock up on groceries in bulk by stashing them into the truck of their cars. And I don’t see neighborhood grocery stores being built near affordable high rise condos anytime soon either.

  15. Rail ridership is up for Metro in 2012, but overall transit ridership is down. It seems that the increased rail ridership is coming at the expense of decreased bus ridership This has been going on for a long time. Adding rail lines has yet to increase the amount of transit users enough to make up for the offsetting cuts in bus service.