Bang for the buck: Toward a rapid assessment of urban public transit from multiple perspectives in North America

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, organisation - performance, operations - performance, operations - frequency, planning - service quality


Urban transit, Public transit, Performance evaluation, Rapid assessment, Affordability, North America


We present a rapid assessment – using simple metrics based on publicly available data– of how effectively public transit agencies achieve key outcomes, and reconcile trade-offs among these outcomes, from the perspective of transit users, society and the agencies, in the largest 14 cities in North America with a population greater than three million. We assess the trade-offs among service quality, incorporating accessibility, service frequency, and comfort (which are important for transit users); transit ridership per capita (reflecting the society perspective); financial viability from the agency perspective; and affordability of fares for minimum-wage earners. We also assess the overall performance of transit in these cities, considering these perspectives in an integrated manner. Agencies vary widely in achieving and reconciling the above outcomes and trade-offs. Generally speaking, however, agencies that perform well (or badly) on one of these objectives and trade-offs also perform well (or badly) on the others, and in terms of overall transit performance. Finally, we discuss how our assessment may be improved upon, including in terms of better and more nuanced measures, in future work. We suggest that metrics be assessed uniformly and reported regularly across transit agencies, to track and reliably compare their performance over time; and that it would be desirable to understand how transit users and decision makers weigh the relative importance of key objectives, and to incorporate this understanding in assessments of transit performance.


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


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