Transit in the 2000s: Where Does It Stand and Where Is It Headed?

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, ridership - behaviour, ridership - demand, ridership - disadvantage, ridership - mode choice, planning - travel demand management, planning - service level


Public transit, ridership, ridership per capita


U.S. public transit has experienced something of a renaissance in the 2000s, with per capita service levels increasing nationwide and public investment growing even faster—particularly expenditures on rail transit. Despite this expansion, overall transit patronage has been relatively flat, and has declined significantly since 2014. What is behind these trends, and what do they portend for the future of transit? In this paper we consider three challenges shaping transit today and in the years ahead: (1) the asymmetry of transit supply and use make it especially vulnerable to changes and disruptions; (2) many of the factors that determine transit ridership, such as levels of private vehicle ownership and use, are largely beyond the control of transit agencies; and (3) there remains no consensus about what purpose transit should serve—politically the industry thrives on the idea that it will reduce congestion or clean the air, while in practice it primarily moves poor people, a very different and sometimes conflicting role. How successfully transit systems manage each of these challenges will shape their future roles and significance.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by the Journal of Public Transportation, copyright remains with them.