Charting Public Transit’s Decline

Nationwide transit ridership has declined steadily since 2014, with some of the largest urban areas, including Atlanta, Miami, and Los Angeles, losing more than 20 percent of their transit riders in the last few years. While this recent decline is stunning, it results from a continuation of a century-long trend of urban areas becoming more dispersed and alternatives to transit becoming more convenient and less expensive.

Those trends include a dispersion of jobs away from downtowns and increasing automobile ownership, both of which began with Henry Ford’s development of the moving assembly line in 1913. As a result, per capita transit ridership peaked in 1920 at 287 trips per urban resident per year, and have since fallen to just 38 trips per urbanite in 2017.