Explaining Variation in Transit Ridership in U.S. Metropolitan Areas Between 1990 and 2000: Multivariate Analysis

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

operations - frequency, planning - service quality, policy - fares, mode - mass transit, mode - subway/metro


United States, Transit, Socioeconomic factors, Socioeconomic aspects, Service quality, Service frequency, Service coverage, Ridership, Quality of service, Public transit, Patronage (Transit ridership), Passenger service quality, Multivariate analysis, Multiple destinations, Metropolitan Statistical Areas, Metropolitan areas, Mass transit, Local transit, Fares, Conurbations


Between 1990 and 2000, transit patronage increased by around 7% in the United States, but there has been wide variation around this mean. Most research attributes variation in ridership change to a combination of socioeconomic and land use factors, which are beyond a transit agency’s control, and service and fare policy decisions, which are within an agency’s control. A study built on this earlier work by examining ridership change at the metropolitan scale for all metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the United States that had more than 500,000 people at the time of the 2000 census. The study incorporates several measures of service quality in order to evaluate the relative efficacy of policy decisions about service coverage, frequency, and orientation (central business district radial versus multidestination system orientation). The multivariate analysis shows that transit is growing most rapidly in the nontraditional markets of the West but that much of the regional variation is a function of the particular service coverage, frequency, and orientation decisions made by transit agencies in this region. Service coverage and frequency are the most powerful explanatory variables for variation in ridership change among MSAs with 1 million to 5 million people, whereas a multidestination service orientation is the most important explanation for variation in ridership change among MSAs with 500,000 to 1 million people.