Ridership trends of new start rail projects

Document Type


Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - rail, mode - tram/light rail


Implementation, Investments, Level of service, Light rail transit, Market share, Mobility, Ridership, Trend (Statistics)


This research reports on the ridership trends of new start Light Rail Transit (LRT) projects implemented in the last two decades. These systems are colloquially referred to as "new start" systems. The purpose of the research presented here is to look at the process of maturation of these systems in terms of ridership trends. Each system's ridership is examined, and system extent in terms of route miles and service miles also is examined. The research attempts to discern the impact of service expansion associated with the system synergies that might result from increased accessibility. Performance is evaluated by reviewing ridership changes as LRT systems grow and comparing them with changes in service supply. This review of the National Transit Database data indicates that ridership trends for new start LRT projects matured relatively quickly, with subsequent growth driven by system extent and service levels. The initial rapid maturation is partially attributable to the high levels of attention light rail lines receive when they are under development and implemented, as well as the inherent physical presence that LRT provides for transit. It is interesting to note that the LRT systems, even the more mature systems, are a modest share of the urban area's total transit service, with the most successful systems providing approximately 30% of total regional transit trips. LRT investments may be very important to a community by stimulating attention and investment in public transit. LRT implementation has helped several communities expand public transit use; however, it has not resulted in dramatic changes in the role that public transit plays in regional mobility in the respective communities. While LRT is playing an important role in expanding opportunities for transit use, even LRT system development is a lengthy process with a mixed record in terms of providing substantial growth in transit ridership.