Who Rides Public Transportation

Posted by Content Coordinator on Tuesday, March 14th, 2017


Top Line Results

Key Demographics

Age – Of all transit riders, 79% fall into the most economically active age range from 25 to 54. The balance are divided between those younger than 25 (14%) and those in the age range generally thought of as the retirement years, 65 or older.

Ethnicity – The single largest group of riders consists of white or Caucasian riders (40%). Communities of color make up a majority of riders (60%), with African-American riders comprising the largest single group (24%) within communities of color. However, there are considerable variations in these characteristics among urban areas of differing sizes.

Household size – Transit riders come from a wide mix of household sizes. A two-person household is more common (31%) than other household size. However, single person households are also very common, with 26% of riders reporting households of that size. The balance consists of households of three persons (18%) and households of four or more persons (25%).

Employment – Of all riders, 71% are employed, while 7% are students. Thus more than threefourths of transit riders (78%) are either currently employed or preparing for employment. The balance includes 7% retired persons, 6% unemployed, 3% homemakers. Another 6% were classified as “Other” in the reports.

Workers in the Household – Most transit user households (77%) include one or more working persons. This consists of 43% with one working person and another 34% with two or more working persons.

Income – According to the Census Bureau, a total of 13% of U.S. households have household incomes of less than $15,000, but among transit using households, the comparable figure is 21%. On the other hand, at the top level of the income spectrum ($100,000 or more), the percent of all U.S. households (23%) and transit-using households (21%), is very similar.

Education – More than half (51%) of transit riders hold a bachelor’s degree or some level of graduate education. Relatively few (8%) have less than a high school education. One percent (1%) were classified as “Other” in the reports. The balance, 40%, completed high school or some college.

Gender – Most transit riders in the United States are women (55%).

Vehicle Availability – Among all riders, 54% indicated there is a vehicle available to them on an ongoing basis, while 46% said there was no vehicle available.

Driver’s License – Almost two-thirds of transit users, 65%, have a driver’s license, an indication that they have some flexibility in travel mode even if a vehicle is not immediately available for a given trip.

Language – Among all transit users, 85% speak English as their primary language, while 12% speak Spanish and 3% speak other languages.

APTA - Who Rides Public Transit

Key Travel Characteristics

Trip Purpose – A total of 87% of public transportation trips involve direct economic impact on the local economy. This includes getting to or from work (49%) or shopping (21%) and recreational spending in the local economy (17%). Since we know that 71% of the riders are employed, clearly the fact that 49% of riders’ trip purposes were getting to or from work means that many employed riders happened to be making trips for other purposes when surveyed. One indicator of these other uses of transit is an increase in trips for shopping since the 2007 study, when only 8.6% of trips were for shopping. Shopping trips increased to 21% in the current study.

Reasons for Using Public Transit – When asked to describe in their own words their reasons for using public transit, a total of 60% of the reasons given involve either a preference for using transit for the economy of it (16%) or just a preference for intangible benefits such as convenience (44%). The most frequent response (44% of reasons given) was that they simply prefer transit for a variety of intangible reasons, including that they find it more convenient than driving, that they save time, or help the environment or they simply say that they “prefer it” without elaborating. In addition to these reasons, other motives cited involve a preference for transit based on cost savings (16%). In particular, they mention saving on gasoline and parking costs. Finally, 40% say they have no real alternative because they lack money or lack a vehicle, or that transit is the only transportation available to them.

Frequency of Using Public Transit – More riders use public transit five days a week (50%) than any other usage pattern. In addition, another 13% use it six or seven days a week. Studies tend to find that among the five day riders, commuting is the primary trip purpose, but it is among the primary trip purposes for many others as well.

Access Mode – More than two-thirds of transit users (69%) walk to their stop or station. Another 11% drive to their stop, while 10% indicate that they use another form of transit. The balance are either dropped off (6%) or use another mode.

Egress Mode – On alighting from their transit vehicles, most transit passengers walk to their destination (76%). Another 16% transfer to another transit vehicle, while 4% drive, 3% get a ride, and 1% could not be classified except as “other.”

Alternate Mode – Riders were asked what alternative mode they might use if transit service were not available. The most frequent responses were that they would not make the trip (22%) or that they would use other transit options (20%). The balance, 57%, say they would find a means of travel other than public transportation. More (17%) would drive than any other non-transit mode. However, a total of 16% would either car/ vanpool, get a ride or take a taxi.

Fare Media Used – Most transit riders, 86%, use a pass medium of some type to pay their fares. The use of cash, once the common fare medium, has diminished to only 11% of the ridership nationally.

Transfer Rate – Annually, half of the trips made (50%) require a transfer during those trips, and half do not.

Duration of Using Transit – Most riders (a total of 53%) are long-term riders in that they have used transit for five or more years. This includes 29% who have used transit for five or six years and 24% who have used it for seven or more years.

Download full version (PDF): Who Rides Public Transportation

About the American Public Transportation Association (APTA)
To strengthen and improve public transportation, APTA serves and leads its diverse membership through advocacy, innovation and information sharing. APTA and its members and staff work to ensure that public transportation is available and accessible for all Americans in communities across the country.

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