An analysis of air mass effects on rail ridership in three US cities

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - rail


Weather, San Francisco Bay Area, Ridership, Railroad travel, Rail transit, Patronage (Transit ridership), New Jersey, Climate, Chicago (Illinois)


This paper examines whether daily weather affects ridership in urban transportation systems. When examining human-weather relationships, it is often advantageous to examine air masses, which take into account the entire parcel of air over a region. Spatial synoptic classification characterizes air masses based upon numerous meteorological variables at a given location. Thus, rather than examining temperature or precipitation individually, here we compare daily ridership to synoptic air mass classifications for three urban rail systems: Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), and the Hudson-Bergen light-rail line in northern New Jersey. Air masses are found to have a significant impact on daily rail ridership, with usage typically increasing on dry, comfortable days and decreasing on moist, cool ones, particularly on weekends. Although the comfort of a particular air mass changes throughout the year, seasonality is not a significant factor with respect to the air mass-ridership relationship. The results of this study can benefit rail system managers who must predict daily ridership or in the development of cost-benefit analyses for station improvements.


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