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Does Ridership Matter Any More?

Yes it does!

Ridership growth had been the goal of transit for many decades, but even prior to the COVID pandemic transit ridership was in decline across the country (after peaking in 2014). So the question was asked: should we reset the goalposts to something more attainable? Instead of ridership as the goal, should we position transit as an essential part of the community - providing mobility for those who do not have other options - as a more attainable goal?

Bar graph showing US Transit Ridership 2002 - 2021

The temptation to reset the goalposts is understandable given the challenges that constrain ridership: growth in remote work and on-line shopping, resulting changes in travel patterns, and CX issues like uncompetitive travel times, unreliable service due to labor shortages, and rider concern about cleanliness and safety. The alternate goal to provide mobility for those who lack choice is important and should be included in a suite of goals. But ultimately for transit to stay relevant and garner support, it has to deliver ridership. Without robust ridership, will transit really provide adequate mobility for those who do not have other options? And will transit deliver on environmental goals and attract solo drivers to a more sustainable form of travel?

Fortunately, there is plenty of demand for transportation! Just look around you next time you're stuck in traffic. The need to get around is practically limitless, and transit currently carries just a tiny share.

Think about it: Businesses around the world are constantly impacted by forces beyond their control: recessions, inflation, supply chain issues, even natural disasters or military conflicts. While these factors are indisputable, most businesses continue to do whatever they can to grow their customer base. They don't throw up their hands and declare defeat. Instead they adjust their product or service, focus on quality, and look for new market niches to grow their business.

This is not the time to surrender. It is the time to rethink our services to match changing travel needs, embrace CX, and transform ways of doing business to deliver a competitive product. Absent that, the transit industry is in jeopardy. CX and ridership are imperative.


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