The demand for reliable transit service: New evidence using stop level data from the Los Angeles Metro bus system

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - bus, operations - reliability, operations - scheduling, place - north america, place - urban, planning - service quality, ridership - behaviour, ridership - demand, ridership - mode choice


Public transit policy, Ridership, Scheduling, Service reliability, On-time performance


This study explores the role of service reliability in determining bus transit ridership. Using stop level service supply, demand, and performance data from the Los Angeles Metro bus system, I investigate whether reliability of a directional line serving a stop influences the number of passengers boarding the line at that stop, controlling for various other established factors affecting demand. This cross-sectional analysis of the variation in line boardings across about 1300 sample schedule time point bus stops served by about 300 directional bus lines over a six-month period uses a historical archive of real-time geo-referenced vehicle location data, and focuses on five different time periods, peaks and off-peaks, of a typical weekday. By evaluating two measures that capture different dimensions of bus service reliability, and by estimating a series of regression models, I find systematic evidence that higher average service punctuality (or schedule adherence) and lower variation in schedule deviation over time are associated with greater ridership, all else equal, particularly during the peak periods. This study also provides first empirical evidence that the effect of reliability on peak-period ridership is moderated by headway. The demand for reliability seems to be higher for lines with relatively longer headways. The findings indicate that service reliability influences transit mode choice and/or line/route selection, and suggest that system-wide ridership gains can be expected from reliability improvements. From an urban planning perspective, this study provides more evidence that good service quality can effectively compliment transformations in the urban fabric brought about by coordinated land use — transit plans to promote transit use.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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