Why has public transit ridership declined in the United States?

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, mode - bus, mode - rail, ridership - behaviour, ridership - demand


Transit, Bus, Rail, Ride-hail, TNC


Between 2012 and 2018, bus ridership in the United States declined 15% and rail ridership declined 3%. These losses are widespread and in contrast to trends in other countries. Using data from 215 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we identify the factors responsible for this decline and quantify the contribution of each. We show that expanded transit service and land-use changes increased ridership 4.7% on bus and 10.7% on rail. However, losses due to other factors exceed these gains. Ride-hailing is the biggest contributor to transit ridership decline over this period, reducing bus ridership by 10%. Ride-hailing’s effect on rail varies by metropolitan area size: it has little effect on rail ridership in the largest metropolitan areas but decreases rail ridership 10% in mid-sized metropolitan areas. Lower gas prices and higher fares contribute to lower transit ridership, as do higher incomes, more teleworking and higher car ownership. By providing a clear understanding of the causes of transit ridership decline, our research provides the foundation on which communities can craft an effective response to the problem.


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


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