Publication Detail

What Makes Public Transit a Success? Perspectives on Ridership in an Era of Uncertain Revenues and Climate Change



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Suggested Citation:
Deakin, Elizabeth, Gil Tal, Karen Frick (2010) What Makes Public Transit a Success? Perspectives on Ridership in an Era of Uncertain Revenues and Climate Change. Transportation Research Board 89th Annual Meeting

This paper examines the gap between the perspectives of public transit managers and elected officials and other opinion leaders on what makes transit a success, and the role of ridership levels in that assessment. The authors draw upon the literature, discussions with experts and elected officials, and interviews with transit managers in the San Francisco Bay Area. The authors identify the considerations that lead to policies that urge transit agencies to expand, and those that raise operator concerns about such growth. The researchers and policy makers interviewed saw transit’s prospects quite differently from transit managers and senior staff. The researchers and policy makers believed that transit agencies could increase ridership at reasonable cost by optimizing networks, matching services to markets, adjusting schedules, adopting new technologies, expanding service to new areas, partnering with local government and the private sector, and encouraging transit-oriented development. Transit agency managers, in contrast, felt strongly that simply keeping their existing systems running was a major challenge, especially in light of funding constraints. Operating current services well and keeping current customers happy were key objectives. This gap in expectations was widened by current methods of transit finance, which are both uncertain and demanding of staff time. This suggests that relieving funding pressures will be a necessary first step if transit operators are to be asked to take on larger social roles, such as helping to mitigate global warming in a significant way. Market segment studies, partnerships with other agencies and the private sector and demonstration projects also could help transit agencies to increase ridership in financially responsible ways.

Key words: Public transit, public policy, transit oriented development