Per Capita Transit Ridership Is Actually Down In The San Francisco Bay Area

Despite surging ridership on Bay Area transit systems and calls for a new BART tube to alleviate the congestion, the sad truth is that transit use, as a percentage of total travelers, is down in the region. As Matier & Ross in the San Francisco Chronicle report:

Despite tens of billions of dollars in government subsidies and countless incentives, the percentage of Bay Area commuters taking mass transit hasn’t gone up a bit in more than two decades — in fact, it’s declined.

A new study by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission found that while ridership has hit record numbers on BART and Caltrain as the Bay Area’s population has grown, per capita usage of transit has dropped 14 percent since 1991.

In other words, despite all the BART extensions and the new light-rail and bus lines, the slice of the morning commuters jumping into their cars to go work has pretty much stayed the same since before Bill Clinton was president.

"Could have fooled me," said every BART rider.

“Could have fooled me,” said every BART rider.

The problem is not so much ridership on transit, as any local straphanger can tell you (if their voices aren’t muffled by the bodies wedged around them). The real issue is that the region has continued to invest billions in infrastructure and development on the periphery. All those sprawl jobs in outlying Pleasanton, Concord, and Silicon Valley mean more and more people have to drive to access them, skewing the overall percentage away from transit. And without more housing in the urban core, more people have to live farther out for an affordable home, further driving up driving, so to speak.

Of course, it doesn’t help that BART fares have gone up significantly in recent years.

The overall solution is pretty simply but politically almost impossible: we need to build more jobs and housing in the urban core, around transit stations where the demand is, instead of out in the periphery.

Unfortunately Matier & Ross don’t mention that option.


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