A Transit Ridership Role Reversal in California

Since the outset of the pandemic, the capital of car-oriented sprawl in California has become the king of public transit. Looking for lessons about the future of public transit in the United States? Look to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

2 minute read

September 14, 2022, 11:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

By reputation and ridership, the San Francisco Bay Area has long been considered the much more transit-oriented urban region in California when compared to Los Angeles. But pandemic trends have changed that balance of power, according to a paywalled article by Eliyahu Kamisher for the Mercury News.

“[O]ver the past two and a half years, the Bay Area’s claim to California’s mass transit throne has been deeply eroded, if not undone,” writes Kamisher. “L.A. now has more people riding buses, light rails and trains than the Bay Area. And even when accounting for the Bay Area’s far smaller population, L.A.’s per-capita transit ridership temporarily surpassed its Northern California neighbor for the first time in at least two decades.”

Specifically, “In 2019, transit riders in six Bay Area counties took 43 million more trips than L.A. County, which is over a third larger by population. But in 2021, Los Angeles racked up over 83 million more transit trips than the Bay Area.” That “staggering” threefold reversal is a living text case for the future of transit, post-pandemic, according to Kamisher.

The article blames the Bay Area’s reduced ridership on the large populations of regional workers in white color jobs staying home instead of commuting to the office (a familiar narrative with profound implications for the future of San Francisco, which has been slower than all other U.S. cities to recover to pre-pandemic office occupancies and other metrics of traditional urban core activity).

In Los Angeles, by comparison, buses are packed with riders who never stopped using the system. “L.A.’s three largest bus operators, dominated by L.A. Metro, have a ridership recovery of 74%, which is among the highest rates in the country, outpacing New York City buses and peer bus agencies in the Bay Area. L.A. Metro’s latest budget is predicting a full return to pre-pandemic bus boardings by spring of 2023,” according to Kamisher.

The trends in both regions are upending long-held beliefs about the way cities work. Los Angeles is known, for example, as a capital of car-oriented sprawl. Bus riders are now revealing a different side of the city.

Sunday, August 28, 2022 in The Mercury News

View of Mount Hood at golden hour with Happy Valley, Oregon homes in foreground.

Clackamas County Votes to Allow ADUs, Residential RVs

County officials hope the zoning changes will help boost the housing supply in the region.

June 18, 2024 - Mountain Times

Single-family homes in a suburban neighborhood in Florida.

New Florida Law Curbs HOA Power

The legislation seeks to cut down on ‘absurd’ citations for low-level violations.

June 16, 2024 - The Guardian

Aerial view of intersection in New York City with yellow cabs and zebra crosswalks.

Planners’ Complicity in Excessive Traffic Deaths

Professor Wes Marshall’s provocatively-titled new book, "Killed by a Traffic Engineer," has stimulated fierce debates. Are his criticisms justified? Let’s examine the degree that traffic engineers contribute to avoidable traffic deaths.

June 13, 2024 - Todd Litman

View of Palos Verdes Drive along Pacific Ocean in Palos Verdes, California at sunset.

Erosion Threatens SoCal Road, Lloyd Wright Icon

The city of Palos Verdes is closing parts of a roadway to cyclists, citing safety concerns as the land underneath moves between 7 and 12 inches per week.

5 hours ago - Daily Breeze

Faded image of vacant storefront in rural area with American flag stars painteind on windows.

COVID Isn’t to Blame for the Retail Vacancy Crisis

A drop in demand for retail space began well before the seismic shifts of the pandemic.

7 hours ago - Slate

Heavy New York City traffic headed toward Holland Tunnel in Manhattan.

Judge Rules in Favor of MTA in Congestion Pricing Suit

Advocates of the program are calling on Gov. Hochul to reinstate the program in light of the decision.

June 23 - StreetsBlog NYC

City Planner I

Department of Housing and Community Development

City Planner II

Department of Housing and Community Development

City Planner Supervisor

Department of Housing and Community Development

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.