Tag Archives: ridership

Does Increased Transit Ridership Reduce Congestion?


By Dom Nozzi

May 5, 2016

I am not convinced — as a great many people believe — that increased transit ridership reduces congestion.

In my view, I don’t see how removing cars from roadways by recruiting motorists to use transit will be able to reduce car volumes. Motorists who briefly free up road space by becoming transit riders will quickly be replaced by the latent demand of discouraged car drivers who are induced by the freed up road space.traffic congestion

I have seen a number of studies that confirm this by showing new transit does not durably reduce congestion.

In my view, the key is to move away from using congestion or delay as a measure of quality. Let’s keep in mind that to be healthy, cities need agglomeration, slow speeds, and compactness. Being concerned about delay or congestion undercuts these ingredients — ingredients needed for a well-functioning city.

A wise city does not seek to reduce congestion. It seeks to provide housing and transport options (including transit) that enable people to AVOID the inevitable congestion of an attractive city.

I will grant that minimizing delays can be a good idea in suburb or rural areas.

But doing that is toxic for urbanized areas.

Leave a comment

Filed under Transportation, Urban Design

Quality Transit is Necessary But Not Sufficient


By Dom Nozzi

June 13, 2000

Too often, it is thought that we can get people out of cars and in transit simply by improving the quality of transit.dsc_5732

Two problems with that common theory:

  1. We usually don’t have the money to dramatically improve transit quality; and
  1. Even if transit quality was superb, it would STILL be irrational to use it. Driving a car would remain the most rational choice, as this blog of mine indicates. This will be true unless critical conditions were changed: Scarce and costly parking for cars, congested streets, and reasonably high densities.

If we don’t get those conditions right, transit will never be rational to use for people with a choice about how to travel. The danger here is that transit gets a black eye when we pour big bucks into improving quality, yet see no meaningful increase in ridership. The carbarians can then say, “See. I told you. Even if we pour a huge amount of money into transit, no one will use it. Humans are genetically programmed to like cars and hate buses.”

So the critical key is to fix parking and streets so that cars are not so happy. Quality transit is necessary but not sufficient.


Leave a comment

Filed under Transportation

Will Free Bus Fares Significantly Increase Bus Ridership?


By Dom Nozzi

September 8, 2005

It is commonly believed that free bus fares will substantially increase bus ridership.


Given all of the enormous, often subsidized benefits that nearly all Americans “enjoy” as motorists, free fare is unlikely to attract a meaningful number of motorists. In particular, as Donald Shoup would point out, free and abundant parking almost begs people to drive a car. Since almost every car trip an American makes (98% is, I think, Shoup’s number) is to a free and abundant parking space, this is a huge barrier that alone will trump free fare, in my opinion.

bus stop next to bulb-outBut there are many other reasons I don’t believe free fares would recruit a significant number of motorists.

For starters, buses don’t allow passengers to carry a lot of cargo, as can be done with a car.

In addition, buses tend to be “loser cruisers” that bruise the ego (at least in most communities).

Buses are less secure than suit-of-armor cars. This is particularly a problem for many women, who often don’t like the idea of sitting next to smelly, leering, potential rapists and muggers.

Buses tend to be way slower than cars, which is a huge problem in our busy lives.

Buses don’t send the message that you are “hip” or “important.”

Buses reduce travel flexibility. You cannot go to destinations not served by the bus route, and you cannot depart whenever you wish.

Bus service tends to be far too infrequent to be convenient and fast to use.

Roads are free to use when driving a car. Nearly all roads in America are not tolled (ie, motorists tend not to pay a user fee for the expensive asphalt they use).

I could go on and on with this list.

Given all this, I don’t see how free bus fare will recruit a meaningful number of motorists. There is simply too little reward in comparison to all of the huge benefits given up.

As Shoup would point out, there are one or two things that CAN trump those benefits for a lot of motorists: priced and scarce parking, and more compact residential development. Each of these inducements tend to be the case for students attending universities, which goes a long way toward explaining their relatively high bus ridership.

I’ll admit that free fares have a decent chance of recruiting poor people, those without a car, or both. But in this case, the question comes down to this: Should we operate a bus system to be, in effect, a social service agency?

If so, bus service is likely to be doomed to a future of low-quality service that won’t do much to recruit motorists.

After all, why put effort into improving a service that your impoverished, car-less customers are often FORCED to use anyway? And why put money into a service that is used by such a small number of people?

Leave a comment

Filed under Transportation

Improving Bus Ridership

By Dom Nozzi

Should a City strongly focus its bus system on serving lower-income areas, even if doing so results in very low bus ridership?

Before Gainesville, Florida hired my friend Perry Maull (who no longer works for Gainesville) to be the city transit director, Gainesville only had a few buses, and they were always empty. Gainesville, he proclaimed, was suffering from the “empty bus” syndrome, where everyone in town could see all these empty buses running around town (and thinking about how wasteful that was).Small bus2

It was only when Perry started going after the University of Florida market that things turned around in a big way. Most of Perry’s brilliant strategy was to convince students to pay an increased student fee in exchange for a bus pass. Students were more than happy to do this so that they could escape the burden of scarce, expensive parking on campus.

Sadly and predictably, Perry and the city were then attacked by advocates for the poor and disabled. Such advocates were appalled that the city bus system seemed to now be putting too much emphasis on serving “wealthy” students rather than poor people in East Gainesville. They demanded the city return to the inefficient days of excessive focus on serving poor people – even if that would mean returning to the bad old days of the Empty Bus Syndrome.

Putting too much emphasis on serving poor people in low density areas served by ample, free parkign predictably results low bus ridership levels. In effect, doing so is to make the bus system act like a social service agency rather than an effective transit system.

It is a recipe for transit failure.

Designing a transit system for poor people — people who are more likely to have no choice but to use transit (because they are less able to afford owning cars), is a design strategy where there is little need to care much how good the transit system is operating, since poor people are forced to use it regardless of how awful the service may be.

That may be fine for a social welfare office. But for a bus system, creating a mediocre transit service kills public support for transit. After all, who wants tax dollars to go toward empty buses that are only used by a handful of low-income people?

Such a floundering system requires millions of public dollars increasingly bankrupt communities don’t have, forces communities to serve areas that are extremely low in density (too low for healthy transit), and ultimately erodes the community’s ability to improve the system overall (because of sagging transit revenues and declining public support for transit).

By contrast, by adopting Perry’s successful strategy of going after the people who have a choice (in this case, college students living in high-density areas who are inconvenienced by scarce and expensive parking), transit is now seen by everyone to be relevant and a meaningful part of the community travel mix.

In other words, instead of an unbalanced focus on serving the poor and ignoring predictable declines in bus revenue and quality, opting for proven transit strategies for success (serving higher-density residential areas where parking is scarce and costly) improves the bus system overall. A healthier bus system, in other words, can provide better service for poor people than can a mediocre Empty Bus system that is overly focused on serving the poor.

It may be “politically incorrect” to design a bus system that targets the wealthier “choice” riders, but it is the political “price” a community often must pay if it truly wishes to improve its bus system.


Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:


My Adventures blog


Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog


My Town & Transportation Planning website


My Plan B blog


My Facebook profile


My YouTube video library


My Picasa Photo library


My Author spotlight


Leave a comment

Filed under Economics, Politics, Transportation, Urban Design

Sub-Optimizing the Poor

By Dom Nozzi

To “help” poor people, a counterproductive tactic that is commonly deployed is to run empty buses on routes that are so sparsely populated that it is inefficient (uneconomic) to run buses on such routes. Such routes are often maintained because they serve lower-income locations in a community and therefore are thought to “help poor people.”

By running low-ridership routes, the transit system suffers, which results in worsening transit service quality system-wide.

Is it somehow unethical to enrich the transit system — thereby improving service throughout the urban area — by serving more wealthy routes that generate large volumes of riders? Maybe if the bus system had the bloated budget of most city or county law enforcement agencies, they could afford to run what amounts to a social service agency that only ran routes in low-income neighborhoods with sparse ridership.

But bus system budgets are suffering, not bloated.

Many cities have a long, sorry history of running buses to serve poor people. A history that, as a result, sees a decline in the quality of service city-wide, which leads to a decline in ridership.Ottawa, Canada

Majorities of elected officials and administrators tend to champion the poor every time they mention transit. The result is a system that is pathetic in ridership and service quality for a long time (including for the poor).

The lesson, as a transit director friend says, is that ridership growth depends, in part, on quality service (it also depends, as an aside, on parking management, as well as residential and commercial and job density). A system that prioritizes helping the poor (instead of creating system quality) is doomed to be forever a system with low-quality service that serves only those without travel choices (in other words, a mediocre system that serves almost no one).

Let us also acknowledge that we need to have iron-clad evidence from quality studies and peer cities, prepared by qualified economists, showing a big jump in ridership before we move toward a costly transit system change.

A common change considered is to reduce or eliminate bus fares to increase ridership. However, I am unconvinced that there is good evidence showing substantial ridership growth with fare reductions.

Without being coupled with scarce and priced car parking, frequent service, and relatively high residential densities, low fares will be almost entirely ineffective in attracting motorists to transit — given the enormous financial as well as unquantifiable benefits of car travel.

Even today’s “high” gas prices are nowhere near enough to compensate for the significant, rational reasons to drive a car everywhere for all but a tiny minority.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Transportation

Fare Free Bus Service?

By Dom Nozzi

I’m not sure how much of a good idea it would be to subsidize free bus use. I’ve not read much about it in the literature, so I assume there are important obstacles and problems. Given the fact that our heavy subsidies to single-occupant vehicle (SOV) travel practically beg people to get around in such an unsustainable way, it is entirely possible that even a free bus would not attract huge numbers of riders. And it would hurt the transit service image pretty badly if we were heavily subsidizing fairly empty buses. Again, the uneven playing field for transportation makes it quite rational to choose SOV travel.

SOV travelers also benefit from:

  1. Luxurious, plush, highly comfortable car interiors with full music, seat, and temperature control. Such amenities are rarely, if ever, available on a city bus.
  2. A perception of protection from crime. The car as a “suit of armor” helps explain why so many parents of their collegiate offspring want their children to own a car (especially in the aftermath of a headline news crime in the media). Bus rides involve riding with a group of strangers (who are potentially dangerous).
  3. Door-to-door speeds are usually much faster compared to a bus.
  4. Ability to tailor your trip: Carrying small or big loads, carrying carpooling friends or significant others, leaving and arriving when you want to, going to any destination that you desire.
  5. Driving a car is a powerful status symbol.
  6. Privacy.
  7. Free parking spaces are found at nearly all SOV destinations. As Donald Shoup points out, this is such an irresistible subsidy that free parking should be considered a fertility drug for cars.

Can free bus passes overcome all of that? Even in the face of cheap gas, free and abundant parking, and free roads?

Maybe, but I’m not sure.

Leave a comment

Filed under Transportation