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US Light Rail Ridership Growth Rate Leads Major Fixed-Route Transit in 3rd Quarter 2002

Light Rail Progress – April 2003

"American light rail booming" – that's how the Light Rail Transit Association headlined the impressive 2.8% growth rate of light rail transit (LRT) in the United States in the 3rd Quarter of 2002.
[Tramways & Urban Transit March 2003]

Data from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) indicated that the LRT ridership increased at a rate almost as fast as motor bus ridership decreased (3.0%). As the data in the graph below illustrates, grade-separated rapid rail ("heavy rail") increased slightly, by 0.6%, although regional ("commuter") rail declined slightly, by 1.7%. Trolleybus ridership led in second place, after LRT, with a growth rate of 1.8% (for a little over one-third the total ridership of LRT).
[APTA, "Transit Ridership Report", Third Quarter 2002, 2003/01/07]

These rates are for all major fixed-route services – the mainstay of urban public transport. it should be noted, however, that "unconventional", special-purpose services also showed impressive growth rates. Demand-response transit (typically, using small minibus or van-sized vehicles) grew by 5.0%, while all "Other" services – including ferries, aerial tramways, automated guideway transit, monorail, cable car, and vanpool operations – grew at a hefty 5.5%. This suggests considerable market potential for many of these types of services.

At the same time, however, that potential may exist within only a small "universe" of possible riders, if one judges by total ridership. Taken altogether, the Demand Response and Other categories, on the whole, accounted for only about two-thirds as many rider-trips as LRT, and only about 2.3% of all US public transit ridership.

Updated 2003/04/11


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