The State of Public Transit Ridership Across the US

Ridership recovery is an uphill battle for transit agencies across the nation, but some metro areas have made progress.

1 minute read

December 18, 2023, 7:00 AM PST

By Mary Hammon @marykhammon

Blue bus on city street

A Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA) bus on Foster Street in Downtown Worcester, Massachusetts. | Wangkun Jia / Adobe Stock

Public transit ridership is still lagging behind pre-pandemic levels in most major U.S. metro areas, according to the American Public Transportation Association’s third-quarter public transportation ridership report. Axios staffers Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj compared the data to 2019 numbers and highlighted key trends.

At a national level, ridership currently stands at 77 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Drilling down to the state level, just nine of around 100 U.S. metro areas with more than 500,000 people had  September 2023 public transit ridership at or above 100 percent of September 2019; of those nine, Poughkeepsie, New York (150.3 percent); Worcester, Massachusetts (141percent) and Youngstown, Ohio (130 percent) had the highest.

Fitzpatrick and Beheraj attribute a recent rise in ridership rates for some of the countries biggest transit systems to employers requiring workers to return to the office. New York subway ridership is up 16 percent, Chicago’s L is up 14 percent, and San Francisco’s Muni Metro light rail network has risen 43 percent. 

In addition to return to the office, the authors say cities have been experimenting with a variety of tactics to boost ridership, including reduced or waived fares, new and adjusted routes based on people’s post-pandemic travel patterns, and investments in infrastructure.

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