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Rail Transit Continues to Lead in Ridership Growth Rate in USA, Canada

Analysis and Commantary by Edson L. Tennyson, P.E.
December 2004

The latest available data on the growth rate of transit ridership in the USA and Canada shows that rail transit, among all transit modes, continues to lead in the growth rate of its ridership – while ridership on buses and "exotic" transit modes like cable cars, monorails, and automated guideways (AGT) shows a decline. Railway Age of December 2004 tabulated the transit ridership data for the first half (quarters 1-2) of 2004 (I have calculated percentages more accurately where the magazine article just rounded to zero percent).

The complete tabulation is shown in the table and graph below. Of particular interest is the fact that light rail transit (LRT) leads in ridership growth, both among rail transit modes and in the entire industry.

Ridership Growth or Loss Rate

USA & Canada, Quarters 1-2, 2004

Light Rail 4.6%
Rapid Rail 2.1%
Regional Rail 0.1%
Urban Bus -0.2%
Cable Car, Monorail, AGT, DPM -2.5%
Trolley Coach -9.7%


Portland LRTIn the USA and Canada, light rail transit leads the industry in its rate of ridership growth. in this photo, a Portland MAX LRT train is seen arriving at a suburban station on a snowy November morning in 2003.
[Photo: Dave Dobbs]

Total rail and bus ridership are compared in the table and graph below.

Ridership: Rail Growth vs. Bus Loss Rate

USA & Canada, Quarters 1-2, 2004

Rail transit 2.3%
Bus transit -0.4%


According to the Railway Age tabulation, actual ridership totaled 4.7 billion for just half a year. Canada added almost a billion with its higher riding habit. Ridership growth rates for the USA and Canada are compared in the table and graph below.

Ridership Growth: USA vs. Canada

USA & Canada, Quarters 1-2, 2004

USA 0.5%
Canada 1.6%


It should be noted that electric trolley coaches showed a significant decline because Philadelphia's SEPTA agency shut down its services. It's also noteworthy that even adding the Silver Line "BRT" in Boston (supposedly, the city's "newest rapid transit line") has not seemed to have helped boost the bus ridership data significantly.

Light Rail Now! website
Updated 2004/12/25


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