When it comes to transit, ridership is often the determining metric of a system's success. The challenge of keeping commuters on the bus is especially daunting for mid-sized metros (population: 1 to 5 million), where sprawl is so deeply ingrained as to make other forms of public transit unfeasible. But even in the face of that challenge, Florida's Broward County operates one of the strongest bus-only transit networks in its class, beating out better-known metro areas like Austin, Charlotte, Indianapolis, and Phoenix.
In a study released earlier this month, researchers from Florida State University analyzed exactly how Broward manages to keep per capita ridership so high, finding that the key lies in decentralizing the network – that is, focusing on interconnectivity rather than direct lines to the nearest downtown.
The report concludes that "in Broward County, workers use transit to get to jobs in a multitude of locations that do not possess the built environment characteristics long thought to be important by most scholars in determining transit ridership."
In that sense, an efficient system, both for riders and for transit authorities, depends on giving commuters enough credit to navigate their way across multiple routes. "That travel time was a significant factor but transfer time was not underscores the efficiency of multi-destination grids," Jaffe writes. "Contrary to popular wisdom, connections can often save time and reduce a system's complexity (a point Jarrett Walker hammers home in his book, Human Transit.)"
Jaffe concludes that "while a wholesale war on sprawl may be important for the long-term success of cities, a simple shift to a multi-destination transit system might have a more immediate impact on ridership (not to mention more political palatability)."