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A stunning Yet journalism often judges both services as being in decline because of falling usage. “There’s an elasticity that shows if you cut service by 10%, you can generally expect ridership goes down 3-6%,” said Greg Erhardt, a civil engineering professor at the University of Kentucky who specializes in travel behavior and transportation planning.A final and pernicious factor is that 2020 was primed to be the sixth consecutive year of what Taylor calls a “disturbing trend”: U.S. transit ridership has been in decline since 2014, even as transit agencies have added service on the whole. The New York subway has stopped running 24 hours a day for the first time in 115 years.Transit’s current situation is partly a reflection of the overall travel freeze on driving, flying, and all other modes during stay-at-home orders in major cities.

But when lockdowns ease, there are reasons that transit commuters in particular may not return in force.First, bus and rail ridership tends to be more sensitive to economic changes than other modes, and the financial effects of coronavirus are poised to stretch long into the future, said Brian Taylor, an urban planning professor and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.Second, some proportion of would-be passengers are likely to continue to work remotely, while others may change their commute patterns to driving or biking.

And how do we measure whether we’re getting it?Then, to decide whether services are succeeding, you measure them against their actual goal. How do we pay for it?

Tag: public transit.

But if the goal is availability, measure how efficiently you’re doing that.It’s also absurd to judge postal or transit services by how well they are competing with the private sector, which is always a losing battle.

With few passengers, daunting finances, sick operators, and a heightened imperative to sanitize, agencies have dramatically scaled back service.

Academic literature shows that such cuts themselves can be rider-deterrents.

Traditionally, a successful transit system is one with a lot of riders, with packed buses and cars and a large share of revenue derived from passenger fares. Pursuing either goal will cause outcomes that look like failure when judged by the other goal’s measures of success. El-Geneidy and Erhardt both pointed to San Francisco as a leader, where the Jeffrey Tumlin, the executive director of the SFMTA, acknowledged that not all of the 100-plus routes lost to coronavirus are necessarily going to return. “But the two things it has demonstrably done in last half century is provide mobility for those without — whether that’s due to age, income, or disability — and allow highly agglomerated places function.

In Southern California, Taylor and his colleagues have found that the largest drops in ridership have come from groups that were traditionally the heaviest, most economically dependent users of transit. It’s like we’re telling our taxi driver to turn right and left at the same time. Talking that way only gives efficiency a bad name. Transit agencies bear an availability commitment that Uber and Lyft can ignore, in addition to massive compliance requirements tied to federal funding. My educated guess is that we will see the rise of transit as a social service.”If that sounds like giving up on transit, look to the cities that are using the crisis as a moment to revamp their systems with social equity as a priority.

But some see a way forward for a new understanding of transit’s role. And how do we measure whether we’re getting it?Suppose you live out in the country, in the only house at the end of a half-mile-long dead-end public road.

If these help foster the growth of dense and walkable neighborhoods, that will produce many benefits that ridership doesn’t measure.In short, ridership is a helpful metric of some things, just as postal volume is, but if it isn’t connected to why people support the service, then it shouldn’t be our main measure of whether the service is succeeding.What would it mean to measure postal performance, or transit performance, according the reasons we actually care about them? But he strikes an optimistic tone: He believes that a transit network that focuses more narrowly on frequent, more reliable service along fewer routes may serve the city better in the end.

Where an agency is explicitly trying to achieve high ridership, look at their ridership trends. Coronavirus has walloped bus and rail networks. “We have to set the city up not only for a stronger recovery, but also for a more urban, humane economy.” Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft emerged, and a housing affordability crisis pushed many people outside the range of reliable transit. We can’t judge the results as though a fair competition were occurring.What does all this mean for funding?

Passengers will inevitably return in dense cities with extensive systems, such as New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, where transit is critical for thriving urban economies to function, Taylor said.

And there are still a lot of them: By the end of March, New York City subway ridership cratered to 10% of its usual five million weekday trips, but that still meant it was providing more than 500,000 trips.

It goes up and down for all kinds of external reasons, such as fluctuations in the cost of driving or the availability of semi-competitors such as Uber. As for low-income and minority populations, those who live in dense cities benefit from service designed for usage.

UPS and FedEx compete with the Postal Service in cities, but when a package needs to go to a rural ranch, they sometimes have the USPS deliver it.

After lockdowns ease, public transportation ridership in the U.S. is likely to remain low for years. The way to do that on a fixed budget is to reduce availability, by focusing service only on the places where the highest usage is possible.Some of the funding sources that transit agencies rely on, especially at the state level, further reinforce usage goals over availability goals. In 1918, streetcars were the top urban transportation mode in the United States. But some see a way forward for a new understanding of transit’s role.

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