Study says improving bus service is the best way to boost transit ridership


Researchers from McGill University may have discovered the key to solving the problem of stagnating ridership that’s plaguing transit agencies across the continent. It’s the humble public bus.

After years of successive growth, cities across North America are struggling to address plateauing or even declining transit use.

The TTC is no exception, and last year ridership decreased significantly for the first time since 2003, with the number of trips falling to 533.2 million in 2017, from 538 million in 2016.

“If (cities) are to address the issues of congestion and sustainable mobility, it is an important issue that they need to look into,” said Geneviève Boisjoly, a PhD candidate and lead author of the new study, “Invest in the Ride.”

In its own analysis, the TTC has blamed the poor numbers on slow employment growth and the increasing prevalence of part-time work, which has undermined the agency’s most reliable customer base of daily commuters.

But the research from McGill’s School of Urban Planning determined external factors like the economy and gas prices are likely less influential than internal ones relating to transit operations, like service levels and fare prices.

In what the researchers say is the most comprehensive study to date of North America’s ridership problem, they looked at transit usage trends in 25 large cities in Canada and the United States from 2002 to 2015.

They found the factor that had the strongest association with changes in ridership was the amount of bus service agencies deployed. Every 10 per cent increase in kilometres of bus service was associated with an 8.27-per-cent increase in ridership.

“From a policy perspective, this research suggests that investments in public transport operations, especially bus services, can be a key factor to mitigate the decline in transit ridership or sustain and increase it,” the study asserts.

Although public debates about transit often centre on grand plans for multi-billion-dollar rail lines, Boisjoly said there are a number of reasons why buses might be more effective at increasing ridership.