Transit ridership, incident effects and public policy

Erik Ferguson


Transit ridership and performance is significantly affected by incidents such as labor strikes, work stoppages and gasoline shortages. This paper discusses the behavioral implications of such phenomena, specifically with regard to modeling the effects of incidents on transit ridership using aggregate time-series data. Transit users may respond to incidents by changing their perceptions of transit service utility, or by changing their location and travel behavior on either a permanent or a temporary basis. It appears that sensitivity to the effects of incidents increases with the degree of transit dependence and trip discretion on the part of the individual user. The speed at which transit ridership recovers to preincident levels appears to be more directly a function of market competitiveness. Transit managers can respond to the threat of strikes through a variety of mitigation and adaptation techniques. Mitigation strategies include averting the strike, attempting to shorten it or providing replacement service during the strike. Adaptation strategies may include fare changes, service changes or changes in operating subsidies implemented in the aftermath of a particular incident. These strategies and their long- and short-term effects on ridership are discussed in the context of the transit industry in the United States.