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Strategies for Maximizing Transit Ridership

Jarrett Walker outlines the conditions under which transit serves the greatest number of travelers. Maximizing ridership, he argues, requires thinking like a business and catering to demand.
August 7, 2015, 8am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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In an article on his blog, Jarrett Walker writes, "Maximizing ridership is like maximizing the number of customers for any business.  You have to think like a business, and the first thing businesses do is choose which markets they will enter. Unlike governments, businesses feel no obligation to provide their service in places where they would spend a lot of money to serve very few people."

Walker differentiates ridership from transit coverage, which is often a politically-motivated goal. "Commentators sometimes criticize transit authorities for low ridership, as though transit were a failing business.  But transit authorities are rarely directed to maximize ridership as their primary goal, so they're not failing if they don't."

"A more precise question is: 'what percentage of our resources should our transit authority spend pursuing maximum ridership?' When transit authorities answer that question, then everyone knows what the purpose of the service is."

Walker explains in detail the factors behind transit demand. They include:

  • Frequency of service: "People who are used to getting around by a private vehicle (car or bike) often underestimate the importance of frequency, because there isn't an equivalent to it in their experience."
  • Overall diversity of trips served (as opposed to personalized service)
  • Travel time, including time spent waiting

Finally, Walker discusses how the urban landscape affects ridership, focusing on density, walkability, linearity, and proximity.

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Published on Wednesday, July 15, 2015 in Human Transit
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