National Transit Ridership Down in October 2019. Cap Metro (Austin) Reported a 6.6% Gain, But Did It?

Cost Commentary: Transit continues to loose ridership throughout the Nation as reported by Randal O’Toole in the article below, from his Antiplanner Blog. As noted, the New York region had 44.2 % of the total U.S. transit ridership in 2019, thru October. As Randal states “transit is simply irrelevant in most of the rest of the country.” This applies to all of Texas where transit ridership in its four major cities is less today than 20 years ago, after spending many tens of billions of dollars to increase transit ridership. Austin has had the most percentage decline in ridership of the for Texas cities, in the past 20 years. Real life’s situation totally contradicts Austin/Cap Metro’s joint effort, called “Project Connect,” which has developed a massive transit upgrade plan. Austin is moving toward a vote on the initial segment of the plan in November 2020. The cost is not yet announced by Austin, but the initial segment could cost up to $10 billion and the total plan could be more than double this, exceeding $20 billion.

As indicated in the next posted article: As ridership has declined over many years, transit costs have continued to increase. This, of course, places a growing burden on all Austin area citizens to highly subsidize the less than 1% of citizens who will use the planned new transit. Many trends in technology, some in current operations and several rapidly advancing, will dramatically change public transit as we know it today. The old concept of “fixed/dedicated” lanes for trains and buses are becoming more obsolete each day and will be totally obsolete before Austin/Cap Metro can complete “Project Connect.” Project Connect can only serve the interest of City Politicians, Transit Executives and Contractors which crave the large expenditure of taxpayer funds to develop ineffective systems.

Austin was one of the few cities to report a transit ridership gain in October, 2019, compared to October 2018. As reported, this 6.6% increase was primarily due to the major route restructuring, called ‘Cap ReMap’ opened in mid 2018. However, facts are not clear on this. About the time Cap Metro opened its new route structure, it implemented a new policy of allowing K-12 school students to ride free. Many students have abandoned school buses to ride free Cap Metro buses. Cap Metro’s own report indicated ridership of over 2 million of these student riders in the first year, from mid-2018 to mid-2019. The question is: How many of these free riders would have ridden Cap Metro anyway. If these new free riders were a major portion of the total K-12 ridership, there is a very small ridership increase due to the Cap ReMap program. These small gains do not compensate for the 20 years of ridership decline of about 20%, the largest, current 20-year decline of the four major Texas Cities. These route updates have been implemented in numerous cities and do achieve short term ridership gains, but do not weaken the numerous reasons that have outdated Cap Metro’s Project Connect. Cap Metro’s reporting of these increases primarily focused on a few routes where more significant gains were accomplished, instead of the total ridership. Cap Metro must communicate with transparency and total integrity, and, eliminate deceptive reporting so citizens can fully understand the broad, likely, devastating implications of this transit path before being asked to support a Proposition of many billions of dollars with a follow-on commitment of many, additional billions of dollars. This is a multi-generation commitment which will dramatically limit the ability of future generation to address key needs of their time resulting in lowering their quality of life.

Please note below that many of the largest transit ridership declines are in cities with much greater density than Austin. Los Angeles is the most dense urban area in the U.S. and is one-third more dense than the New York City region. L.A.’s transit ridership has been in a major decline for many years. If Transit is failing in the most dense urban area, why do our leaders believe transit will succeed in the Austin region which has less than One half the L.A. density and 8-9 times less urban population?
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October Transit Ridership Down 1.6% in October, 2019

By The Antiplanner | December 16, 2019

The nation’s transit industry carried 1.6 percent fewer riders in October 2019 than it did in the same month in 2018, according to the latest monthly data release from the Federal Transit Administration. Ridership fell for light rail, hybrid rail, and most kinds of buses, but grew for commuter rail and heavy rail. October had the same number of work days in 2018 and 2019, so the decline in ridership can’t be blamed on a difference in work days.

Ridership declined in 31 of the nation’s 50 largest urban areas. The numbers show an increase for Dallas-Ft. Worth, but that’s due to a change in the method of counting bus riders in Dallas, so in reality ridership probably declined in 32 of the nation’s 50 largest regions.

In terms of percent, the biggest drops were in New Orleans (-17.1%), Louisville (-12.6%), Phoenix (-11.8%), Boston (-10.3%), and Virginia Beach-Norfolk (-9.9%). In actual numbers, the biggest declines were in Boston (-3.6 million riders), Chicago (-2.8 million or -5.2%), Los Angeles (-2.3 million or -4.7%), Philadelphia (-1.4 million or -4.3%), and Atlanta (-1.0 million or -7.9%). Phoenix, San Francisco Oakland, Minneapolis-St. Paul, San Juan, and Cleveland all lost more than 200,000 riders.

New York transit ridership grew by 0.1 percent, which wasn’t enough to offset the declines elsewhere. The decline in most of the rest of the country while ridership grows in New York represents a continuation of a trend since at least 1991. In that year, the New York urban area accounted for 33.5 percent of all transit riders. So far in 2019, the region has accounted for 44.2 percent of all riders. Transit advocates use the growth in New York to justify subsidies everywhere, but the truth is that transit is simply irrelevant in most of the rest of the country.

As usual, you can download my enhanced spreadsheet that provides annual totals in columns HP to IG; modal totals in rows 2163 through 2173; transit agency totals in rows 2180 through 3179; and totals for the 200 largest urban areas in rows 3190 through 3391. The spreadsheet is about 10 megabytes in size.

On the same day that it posted the October update, the Federal Transit Administration also posted the complete 2018 database, which consists of 30 spreadsheets with information on costs, fares, transit vehicles, employees, energy consumption, and more. Tomorrow’s policy brief will analyze the database in detail, while next week’s policy brief will look at energy and greenhouse gas emissions calculated from the database. The FTA also posted the latest annual time series, with operating costs, riders, and other data going back to 1991, capital costs back to 1992, and fares to 2002. The December 31 policy brief will analyze that in detail.

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