The Effect of Demographic Changes on Transit Ridership Trends

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, ridership - mode choice, ridership - commuting, ridership - demand


transit ridership, transit service, commuting, demographics


Since 2013, there has been a noted overall decline in U.S. transit ridership despite continued growth in population. Transit ridership declines are not a new phenomenon, however. Since 1980, ridership has peaked and decreased seven different times. In the same time period, transit ridership per capita has decreased by nearly 15%. While economic considerations, fuel price, and changing modal choices are among the factors being evaluated in attempts to explain this decline, several unexplored causes share a strong relationship to ridership decline. Two demographic phenomena help to explain this dampening of transit usage and are the focus of this paper. First, the population is aging and there is a lower share of the population in the young age cohorts that have a higher propensity for transit use. Quantification of the impact of this phenomenon explains some of the ridership declines. Second, there has been a significant decline in the population in some of the counties with high-quality transit service and use. Simultaneously much of the population growth is occurring in counties with lower levels of transit service and use. Rapidly growing counties had half the rate of commuting to work by transit as did rapidly declining counties. In seeking to fully understand the factors that influence transit ridership trends, it is important that each of the many factors be fully understood so that policy makers and practitioners can respond and position transit accordingly.


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