Transit ridership continues upward trend in 2011

As Congress debated stripping dedicated transit funding from the new transportation bill, transit agencies around the country struggled with the choice of raising fares or cutting service. Meanwhile, VMT continued to decrease, and the American Public Transit Association announced that 2011 saw the second highest transit ridership since 1957. Only 2008, when a gallon of gas topped four dollars for the first time, had higher transit ridership during this period. (The highest ridership numbers ever were in 1946, when the U.S. population was less than 151 million.) An improving economy was also cited as a reason for the increase in ridership. Sixty percent of transit trips are commuting to and from work.

Ridership increased over 2010 levels for all transit types: heavy rail, commuter rail, light frail, trolley bus, bus, and demand response (usually linked to paratransit). Increases were also seen in small, medium and large markets, showing broad support for transit. Especially high increases were seen for agencies serving population areas below 100,000 (5.4 percent) and light rail (4.9 percent.) Data broken out by mode, as well as for all reporting agencies can be found on the APTA web site.

The chart below – which contains ridership numbers available on APTA’s web site since 1996 – shows a steady increase.

Annual transit ridership


The American Community Survey, conducted annually since 2001 as a supplement to Census data, has also shown an increase in the percentage of the population using transit as their primary mode of travel to work. Transit share, as reported in decennial census numbers, declined from 1960 to 2000. However, from 2000 to 2010, transit share rose significantly. ACS numbers are not yet available for 2011, so the slight drop in mode share in 2010 will likely be reversed, consistent with ridership data.

Transit mode share

According to APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy the availability of transit route and schedule information available via mobile apps has made transit use easier to access and a more reliable choice for many people. “The exponential growth of apps to track bus and rail arrival times is demystifying the ridership experience and attracting new customers to public transportation. More and more people are now able to find out when the next bus and train will arrive through public transit apps.  This is making public transportation more attractive.”