Transit Work Trip Market Share
Trends Downward in All US New Rail Cities

Transit's greatest potential to reduce traffic congestion is during weekday peak travel periods (Section 3.1). Nonetheless, the percentage of people using transit to get to work has also declined --- a 70 percent decline is estimated from 1960 to 1995 (Figure #1).(1) Latest US Department of Transportation information places transit's work trip market share at 3.5 percent.(2)

During the 1980s, public transit work trip market share declined in all 39 metropolitan areas with more than one million population, except for Houston and Phoenix. In those two metropolitan areas, much of the increased transit ridership was in response to significant bus service expansion. At the same time, transit work trip market share declined in all nine metropolitan areas that built new rail systems (Table #1).(3) Based upon their impact on work trips, it is apparent that new urban rail systems have done little to reduce traffic congestion during peak hours.

  • Five metropolitan areas with new rail systems experienced market share losses of 25 percent or more (Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Portland, and Sacramento).

  • In four of the metropolitan areas with new rail systems, the actual number of transit commuters declined (Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo and Portland).

  • By far the most successful new rail system was Washington's Metro, which by 1990 was nearly 70 miles long (more than double the length of the second most extensive system, in Atlanta), and was expected to cost $12 billion by the time the entire 100 mile system was completed. Yet, public transit in Washington attracted barely one out of eleven new workers in the 1980s.

Table #1
Public Transit Journey to Work Market Share: New Rail Cities

1980 1990 Change New Workers New Transit Commuters
Atlanta 7.39% 4.59% -37.9% 531,706 (2,196)
Baltimore 9.95% 7.39% -25.7% 222,867 (8,334)
Buffalo 6.31% 4.45% -29.5% 31,272 (7,905)
Miami 4.75% 4.21% -11.4% 322,960 7,370
Portland 8.35% 5.36% -35.8% 155,579 (8,672)
Sacramento 3.50% 2.36% -32.6% 250,816 959
San Diego 3.23% 3.20% -0.9% 376,667 11,797
San Jose 3.10% 3.00% -3.2% 135,408 3,401
Washington 15.07% 13.34% -11.5% 654,491 60,324
Average 6.85% 5.32% -22.3%    
Total       2,681,766 56,745
Source: Calculated from US Census Bureau data

While more recent work trip market share data is not yet available, trends tend to indicate little transit impact in the new rail metropolitan areas. In the 12 metropolitan areas that have opened new rail systems (include three systems opened in the 1990s), the maximum percentage of new urban travel captured by transit was a negligible 1.8 percent in Portland (Appendix Table #1). Transit's percentage of new travel was 0.6 percent or less in all other metropolitan areas, including declines in three (Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Jose). Based upon these data, it is likely that transit's work trip market share has declined in all new rail metropolitan areas during the 1990s.(4) There were more than 800 new private vehicle (primarily automobile) passenger miles per new transit passenger miles in Buffalo, and more than 650 in St. Louis (Figure #2).

Transit, with or without rail, has had little success in retaining its market share in the peak hour market that represents its greatest potential for reducing traffic congestion.

Table #2
Transit Share of Increased Travel:
New Rail Cities: 1990-1995
Urban Area % of New Travel by Transit New Private Vehicle Passenger Miles per New Transit Passenger Mile
Atlanta -0.5% Negative
Baltimore 1.0% 101
Buffalo 0.1% 828
Denver 0.6% 153
Los Angeles -0.5% Negative
Miami 0.4% 245
Portland 1.8% 54
St. Louis 0.1% 671
Sacramento 0.6% 168
San Diego 0.5% 220
San Jose -0.3% Negative
Washington 0.4% 226
Total 0.3% 377
Calculated from USDOT FTA & FHWA data.


1. Estimated from US Census Bureau and US Department of Transportation (USDOT) data.

2. Nationwide Personal Transportation Study, 1995.

3. Calculated from US Census Bureau data (1990 is most recent data).

4. If it is assumed that overall transit market share trends are reflective of transit's work trip market share trends, a work trip market share decline would occur in all new rail metropolitan areas, since the percentage of new travel by transit is less in all such metropolitan areas than the 1990 transit work trip market share.

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