2012 a good year for transit use — so far

Light Rail Ridership Report (APTA)

Part of the report on light rail ridership in the third quarter of 2012 by APTA. Click above to see larger and see full report [pdf].

Transit ridership across the United States continued to rise in the third quarter of 2012 with a 2.6 percent increase over this time last year, according to the latest statistics released today by the American Public Transportation Assn.

The numbers echoed gains made in Los Angeles County, where light rail (13.7 percent), heavy rail (.57 percent), commuter rail (5.56 percent) and bus ridership (.12 percent) have all seen increases in the ridership over the first three quarters of 2012 compared to the same time span in 2011. The big gains in light rail here are partly attributable to the first phase of the Expo Line, which debuted in late April and fully opened to Culver City in June.

Here’s the news release from APTA:

More Than 7.9 Billion Trips Taken On Public Transportation As Ridership Increased by 2.6% in First Three Quarters of 2012

Seven Consecutive Quarters of Ridership Increases Show Growing Demand

More than 7.9 billion trips were taken on U.S. public transportation in the first three quarters of 2012 as ridership increased by 2.6 percent over the first three quarters of 2011, according to a report released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). This report shows that 201 million more trips were taken in the first nine months of 2012 than in the same time period in 2011.

“With seven consecutive quarters of ridership increases, it’s obvious that public demand for public transit is growing,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy. “As Congress works to resolve our country’s deficit problem, it also needs to work to resolve the transportation deficit. Otherwise public transit and highway funding will be facing an annual $15 billion shortfall in the next 10 years.”

Mobility is an important reason to have a strong public transportation system. However, public transportation also has a critical connection to the economy. For every $1 billion invested in public transportation 36,000 jobs are created and supported. Additionally, public transportation plays an important role in providing access to jobs.

“We continue to see that in areas where the local economy is improving and new jobs are being added, public transportation ridership is up,” said Melaniphy. “This makes sense since nearly 60 percent of the trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes. Public transit service is an important resource for employees and employers as it is instrumental in helping people travel to their jobs.”

Some of the cities experiencing economic improvements and public transit ridership increases in the third quarter of 2012 include: Grand Rapids (MI); Seattle (WA); St. Petersburg (FL); Phoenix (AZ); San Francisco (CA); Los Angeles (CA); and Riverside (CA).

All major modes of public transportation increased from January through September this year. Light rail and heavy rail saw the largest increases in the first nine months with increases of 4.2 percent and 3.6 percent respectively.

January – September 2012 Ridership Breakdown

Nationally, heavy rail ridership increased by 3.6 percent and 12 out of 15 heavy rail systems (subways and elevated trains) experienced ridership increases in the first nine months of 2012. The heavy rail systems with the highest increases in ridership for the first nine months of 2012 were in the following cities: Cleveland, OH (10.8%); San Francisco, CA (7.4%); Chicago, IL (4.9%); Baltimore, MD (4.4%); and New York, NY (4.4%).

Light rail ridership increased by 4.2 percent from January through September, as 22 out of 28 light rail systems reported increases in ridership. Hampton, VA experienced a triple digit increase due to new service. Light rail systems saw double digit increases in the first three quarters in five cities: Memphis, TN (33.7%); Salt Lake City, UT (19.7%); Los Angeles, CA (13.7%); Pittsburgh, PA (13.5%); and Seattle, WA (11.2%). Other light rail systems with increases were in the following cities: Sacramento, CA (6.8%); Boston, MA (6.2%); Houston, TX (6.1%); and Seattle, WA (5.5%).

Nineteen out of 28 commuter rail systems reported ridership increases and commuter rail ridership grew by 2.4 percent in the first three quarters of 2012. Commuter rail ridership saw double digit increases in the following cities: Austin, TX (15.6%); San Carlos, CA (12.3%); and Seattle, WA (10.2%). Other commuter rail systems showing high increases were located in the following cities: Stockton, CA (9.7%); Portland, OR (8.0%); Baltimore, MD (6.9%); Harrisburg-Philadelphia, PA (6.1%); Portland, ME (5.9%); Los Angeles, CA (5.6%); and Newark, NJ (5.2%).

Nationally, bus ridership rose by 1.8 percent from January through September of 2012, with 28 out of 37 large bus systems reporting increases. Some of the highest bus ridership increases in large cities were reported in: Saint Louis, MO (8.6%); Arlington Heights, IL (5.3%); Newark, NJ (5.2%); and Oakland, CA (5.0%).

Demand response (paratransit) increased by 3.6 percent.

To see the complete APTA ridership report go to: http://www.apta.com/resources/statistics/Documents/Ridership/2012-q3-ridership-APTA.pdf

13 replies

  1. Jonah,

    If anything, they can just model again, after Asia in this regard. They use distance based fares (short trips being cheaper, longer trips being more), but low income qualifiers, elderly, children, and the disabled get 1/2 off the distance fare rate. It’s much like getting lower rates for electricity and gas for those that qualify. That’s how they see transit over there: like an utility. Transit is a need that everyone from the old, to the young, to the middle class, to the poor, and everyone in between has just like electricity and gas, so why can’t transit be like that?

    You all just need to start thinking of how other agencies around the world have solved these issues. We Americans are not the most brilliant when it comes to making mass transit work. All of US transit agencies are massive failures. But right across the Pacific, they made it successful for decades. And for whatever problems we have, they’ve all solved them with answers.

    Isn’t that an indicator to show that perhaps, maybe just perhaps, we can set aside this “white elitism” mindset aside and learn from the Asians? Perhaps we can learn something, if not, A LOT, from how the Asians made mass transit so successful. I’m sure it’s hard to swallow that the “yellow people know it better” but sometimes you all just need to suck up and face the truth: Americans suck at making mass transit work.

  2. Jonah,

    Metro’s own statistics from APCs show that majority of the riders do short trips that are less than 10 miles. Mobility for mass transit riders would actually improve on a distance based plan as they now will be able to pay less for shorter rides. Shorter trips to the grocery store a mile away would now cost $0.50 instead of a $1.50. Shorter trips to the nearest movie theater 5 miles away would cost $1.00 instead of paying $3.00 just because it involves a transfer over two buses.

    Making transit costs cheaper for shorter rides promotes high density city development so that one doesn’t have to travel far to get things done. The more cheaper it costs to do shorter trips, it promotes job creation closer to where people live instead of job centers being so far away, creating the commutes that take as much as 2 hours on the bus to travel all the way from East LA to Santa Monica. Instead, it promotes job growth at East LA instead because that’s where people live.

    Of course one can argue that’s not the case because some lines are jammed packed like Metro Bus 720 because it’s even cheaper cost-per-mile to travel 21 miles from Santa Monica to Commerce for $1.50.

    What is seriously lacking with Metro is true hard data. If you look at past articles, most of Metro’s data are noted as “estimates.” It was estimated that only 1% did fare evasion when numbers where more close to 5-7% when they actually started counting.

    Hence, one data conflicts with other and there’s no real way to show how people are really are using the system. And this data cannot be truly collected unless there’s a tap-on AND tap-off data to show where people get on, where they get off, how far the average rider rides and out of that how many make transfers, where they make transfers, and what the current average wait time is for transfers.

  3. You all are neglecting the fact that transit agencies serve many different purposes. One of those is to help the mobility of the poor, who would not necessarily be able to pay a higher wage. If they couldn’t get to their jobs, we’d all be even worse off.

  4. John A. & in the valley,

    I agree that gas tax has minimal effect with better fuel economy in newer vehicles. In a way, it’s a Catch-22, you have less polluting vehicles on the road which is good for the environment, but the downside is that since they now get excellent gas mileage and consumes less natural resources, tax revenues from gas sales are dropping.

    John A. also makes a good point about the suburban sprawl coming to an end and people starting to live back closer in the city. Less driving and better fuel economy means that we need to look for newer approaches.

    I suggest a “gross vehicle weight tax.” The heavier the car, the more you pay annually in vehicle registration fees. The biggest contributor to wear and tear is how heavy the car weighs. Obviously a Hummer or a Peterbilt 18-wheeler causes way more damage to our roads than a Kia Spectra or a Fiat 500. Ever see a Fiat 500 spew asphalt debris like a semi-trailer?


    “You could do distance based fares on rail only…”

    It’s not that difficult to do distance based fares on buses. Transit agencies in Asia have been using them for a long time before contactless cards were the norm and UTA in Salt Lake City is also starting to use them onboard their buses too.

    And though no US transit agency makes up over 100% of its farebox just from fares alone, Metro is still the lowest among the major metropolitan cities when it comes to farebox recovery ratio and it can stand to do much better. 27% is a rather pitiful and poor result which continuously uses up tax dollars every year when we desperately need better funding for other social needs. We have closed down schools, county health clinics, fire stations, cut back on police officers and other needs due to budgetary constraints. Transportation is important, but there are other social needs that are equally important.

    We can find ways to at least start making the farebox recovery ratio more fairer by implementing newer models. Whether that means a fare hike or switching to distance based fares, I’d rather have a 50% tax/50% farebox ratio over a 73%/27% farebox ratio any day. An increase in 23% from farebox recovery ratio means that much of taxes can be put back towards other social needs which have been cut back due to lack of funding.

  5. The problem is that any time someone wants to raise fares, there is a lot of caterwauling. You’ll have the distance based fares people come out of the woodwork (THIS IS NOT AN INVITATION FOR THEM TO THREADJACK), the Bus Riders Union will complain for even a small increase, and politicians will try to gain political points by messing with the proposal. If Measure R hadn’t passed, we would have a $1.80 base fare and a $7.20 day pass right now, the EZ Pass would be $100 and the regular pass would be $90. http://boardarchives.metro.net/Items/2007/05_May/20070524SBMItem1c.pdf With TAP it should be easy to grant free transfers on the card, while increasing the base fare. You could do distance based fares on rail only, and raise the maximum rail fare to a still reasonable $3.00. But no one at the MTA Board seemed to want to sit through the 2007 fare increase hearing, and with social media a hearing nowadays would last over 12 hours even with 60 seconds per person.

  6. The gas tax used to be where the majority of money spent on “public” highways came from. I don’t wish to get too political, but, President Eisenhower pushed for the Interstate Highway system that we have today. Go to Hawaii and their Interstates have his name emblazoned on them.

    With ALL vehicles getting better gas mileage, or even using no gas, the amount collected from this tax declines and has declined over the last 20 years or so. These newer Eco friendly vehicles, hybrids, etc. STILL inflict WEAR AND TEAR on the Highways. And lets not forget about Entropy (yes physics) plays a role because roads, bridges and infrastructure wear out as the elements and nature pursue their own course.

    So gas tax money declines, infrastructure falls apart, yet we have to move forward.

    The fare box recovery, ultimately, is a drop in the bucket. I could be wrong (and will hear it soon here) but no transit organization in the USA recovers all of their expenses through the fare box. I know that someone will point out that they can do it in Asia, but that is not fair comparison. Metro should recover a fair percentage, but it will not be 100%.

  7. Dan,

    Farebox recovery ratio is a term in which how much the transit agency recovers from the farebox. It’s also known as a tax-to-fare ratio to keep transit agencies running day to day. Ideally is to run it with less taxes and have the agency recover more from fares.

    LA Metro has one of the lowest farebox recovery ratio (around 27-28%) for a major metropolitan city and is one of the biggest reasons why this city is badly in debt. Simply put, a lot of tax dollars are used every year to keep Metro running when they could be used elsewhere like more funding for our public schools, hiring more fire fighters and police officers, making more public parks, fixing those uprooted sidewalks and fixing potholes on our streets. In a way, it’s robbing Peter to pay Paul, and Paul is Metro.

    Increasing the farebox recovery ratio to at least 50% would be the first goal that Metro needs to undertake so as Metro can lessen the dependency on taxes and redirect tax dollars to where they are desperately needed. We need to start focusing on bringing money back to Peter for all the years Paul has been on welfare.

    Many agencies around the world achieve higher farebox recovery ratios from either higher flat rate fares (i.e. NYC, Chicago, Montreal where $2.00+ fares are common) or utilizing a form of variable zone-based (London, Amsterdam, Vancouver where one pays depending on which zone they’re traveling to/from) or pay-by-the-distance models (Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei, and Singapore where one pays less for shorter trips and more for farther trips).

    In the long term, Metro needs to change their plan to close the farebox recovery ratio gap in conjunction with higher ridership numbers. However, the current board members of Metro don’t see this as a high priority issue. I personally see this as a fiscal irresponsibility, a malaise that many politicians in California tend to have.

  8. Mike,

    I doubt raising the gas tax would have any effect in the future years. Pres. Obama recently signed a bill stating that all cars need to achieve 54.5 MPG in cars by 2025. Car makers are already complying with better hybrid models that have no price difference with gas powered cars (Lincoln MKZ hybrid vs traditional gas powered, they’re the same price now) and even cars that use no gas at all are hitting the market. With cars getting better fuel economy, increasing the gas tax would have very little effect in making big changes. If anything, things will just remain the same.

    If a car gets 25 MPG and you fill up $40 every week and taxes make up 15% of it, that means $6.00 goes into transit funding. But if a car now gets 50 MPG, now all you need is $20 every week, and if gas taxes were doubled to 30%, it’s still remains $6.00 into transit funding.

    And with the suburban sprawl ending in LA with more people living closer to the city, that could also mean more people owning better fuel efficient cars and driving less to get things done.

    If that’s the case, it could become people driving 50 MPG cars and using $20 in gas every MONTH instead of every week. At a gas tax of 30%, it means government will only get $6.00 per MONTH, instead of every week.

  9. Excuse me for my ignorance, but John can you explain what the farebox recovery ratio is? I’m very interested in that statistic.

    • Hi Dan;

      It’s the percent of the agency’s operating expenses covered by fares. Metro is currently at 27 or 28 percent, I believe.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  10. @John –

    Agreed, but, the problem is that the pitiful recovery ratio of surface roads makes bus travel look unattractive. The amount of money the state receives from gas tax and city receives from parking meters doesn’t really cover it.

    I’ve searched around trying to come up with a idea as to how much of California road maintenence is covered by gas tax. The information that exists is pretty confusing, but, one estimate is that it costs the state about 5 cents for every mile that people drive. If that’s true, the ~50 cents per gallon gas tax doesn’t cover the true cost of driving.

    If we could raise gas tax to cover the true cost of driving, we could then raise the cost of public transportation without pushing people out of busses and back into cars.

  11. Increase in ridership is one thing, but another thing that also needs to be looked at is whether the transit agencies are if at all, closing in the farebox recovery ratio from the increase in ridership numbers.

    I know Metro is doing their best, but we can’t keep running Metro with a pitiful farebox recovery ratio of less than 30%. It is unsustainable to keep running mass transit with just taxes alone so we need to figure out a better way to close this gap. If that means looking at new fare methods and making people pay more to travel farther, we have to do it. Otherwise, we’ll continue to be in the red with no way out of this debt crisis.