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Transportation

Post-Covid, Transit Agencies Must Look Beyond Ridership

With commuters grounded and passenger numbers likely to remain low in U.S. cities, public transportation leaders should focus on a different metric for usefulness: transit access. 

Bus and subway ridership remains low in major cities like New York. But that doesn’t mean transit isn’t important right now. 

Bus and subway ridership remains low in major cities like New York. But that doesn’t mean transit isn’t important right now. 

Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

Of all the information that U.S. public transit agencies track, none is more important to them than ridership — the number of people boarding its buses, trains and subway cars. Agency executives monitor their ridership data as closely as a CEO watching her company’s stock price. “We’ve always used ridership as our main metric,” says M.J. Maynard, CEO of RTC Southern Nevada in Las Vegas. “We’re constantly drawing comparisons with each other and bragging when our numbers are bigger.”

Dollars are at stake in addition to pride; ridership partly determines the amount of federal funding allocated to each system. The national transit industry scrutinizes passenger numbers too, celebrating a national uptick and bemoaning a downturn.