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Charting the Precise Relationship Between Gas Prices and Transit Ridership

When gas prices fall, discretionary transit riders also spend less on transit according to an analysis of credit and debit card bills by the JP Morgan Chase Institute.
July 14, 2016, 6am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

"For every dollar saved from lower gas prices at the pump, households decreased their spending on transit by some 14 cents,” stated Diana Farrell, president and CEO of the JPMorgan Chase Institute, a separate research arm of the bank.

"Farrell is co-author of a study that analyzed the bills of a million Chase customers in 23 states," reports Nancy Marshall-Genzer for Marketplace.

Of course, there are lots of other factors affecting transit ridership, probably more so than gas prices. Take D.C. Metro, for example. The problem-plagued subway has seen declining ridership since 2010. With impending massive layoffs and service disruptions due to the SafeTrack maintenance program (more posts here), ridership will undoubtedly suffer even further.

Last year, Marketplace reported on the same story — the relationship between gas price and transit ridership. Adam Allington reported in January 2015 that cheap gasoline was not noticeably impacting transit ridership in Chicago.

"In the two months that fuel prices have been well below $3 we have not seen any significant shifts on either the rail side or the bus side," says Brian Steele, a spokesman for the Chicago Transit Authority.

Indeed, CTA experienced a record number of rail passengers last year, but also saw bus ridership drop.

There may be better data for how higher gas prices affect transit ridership, according to Marshall-Genzer.

"When it’s over three dollars per gallon, then we do see riders starting to make those shifts," explained Robert Puentes, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation

Perhaps the JP Morgan Chase Institute could chart a relationship between transit payments and payments to transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft next as they would seem to be likely beneficiaries during Metro's service disruptions.

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Published on Monday, July 11, 2016 in Marketplace
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