Friday, April 24, 2009

Buses rolling

So if you read the stories out today on transit ridership and you think there has been no impact of recent route cuts on ridership.... Here is the fairest comparison I could compile using the data PAT supplies to the feds which compares trends here vs. the US. I have made this all as an index number using October 2006 as a base to compare recent trends. The result looks like:

Estimated Unlinked Passenger Trips (October 2006=1.00), Red = US, Blue= PAT

The story is a continued loss of riders. Any mitigation of that trend over just the last couple of years has to take into account the huge increase in gas prices over some of that time. As we have seen in the past, those types of gains can go away as fast as they came so it's best to not confuse the issue.

Also need to account for population and employment change. Pop change here is lower than the US, but a lot of transit ridership is commuter/employment driven (is that a pun?) and as we have pointed out elsewhere, the last year has seen a lot better economic picture here than most everywhere else. Barring last month the Pittsburgh region is near the highest employment levels ever recorded in the region and if we were just holding our transit usage constant, transit ridership would be pushing near highs as well. So transit is clearly not capturing any of these new workers who are most likely commuting by auto.. and I bet commuting alone for the most part.

The bottom line, Pittsburgh trails almost everywhere else in a trend toward driving vs transit. We used to be a national leader in transit ridership, something we have decided is not worth maintaining into the future. So all of this Earth Day talk, and the impacts of 'greening' of things on the margin are all being obviated by our driving trends. Yet people love to talk about greening a building, or turning off lights for an hour here or there, but they just ignore the policies being put in place that are pushing tens of thousands of people into driving their cars. I don't get folks who talk about the importance of green things, but are more than happy to let public transit wither? Be honest with what you believe, if you believe environmental issues are too expensive to maintain that is a choice, but you can't have your cake and eat it too.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very passionate post... and I agree. It's troubling what is happening to transit here in the Pittsburgh area. Short-sighted leadership, mind-blowing legacy costs, lack of dedicated state funding source, ineffective system routes, etc. all add up to a stagnant... and perhaps declining... transit regime.

Friday, April 24, 2009 9:53:00 AM  
Blogger kentropic said...

There may be an alternative somewhere between public transit and continued reliance on private internal combustion. Shai Agassi certainly thinks so, and he outlined his revolutionary approach at the TED2009 conference in February. It's worth a look/listen:

Friday, April 24, 2009 10:21:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

"I don't get folks who talk about the importance of green things, but are more than happy to let public transit wither?"

Because we figure if we give the PA more money, they'll just put up really cool murals in the stations for the North Shore Connector or run a tunnel under the Mon or upholster the toilet seats in their offices. Anything to avoid making the buses into Oakland less 'efficient' by running enough of them than the passengers can breath and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Friday, April 24, 2009 10:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Ken Zapinski said...


According to the ridership reports I'm looking at, unlinked trips across the Port Authority system for calendar 2006 totaled 70,036,244. Unlinked trips for the system for calendar 2008 totaled 68,093,821, or 97.2% of the 2006 level.

Certainly that's a decline, but your graph seems to imply that there has been nearly a 20% dropoff in ridership between 4th quarter of 2006 and 4th quarter of 2008, which isn't the case, at least according to the data I'm looking at.

I'm also curious about the choice of October 2006 as the baseline. The monthly ridership numbers that month were abnormally high -- the highest since October 2003, and 7% higher than November 2006. I don't know why ridership was so high that month (a special promotion? unusually high number of Steeler home games? some kind of special event?) But whatever the reason, I'm not sure it's an appropriate baseline for an index.

The minor ridership decline between 2006 vs. 2008 needs to be understood in the context of the Port Authority trimming 15% of its service because it no longer could afford to run it. A 15% service cut that results in a 3% ridership decline means those last few riders were very, very expensive to provide service to. And the Port Authority simply did not have the resources available to continue that many hours of service.

If we're looking at two different sets of numbers and that accounts for my confusion, please let me know.

Saturday, April 25, 2009 9:33:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Ken... thats the point.. the route cuts cut ridership. Remember all those claims it wouldnt. That hit has been obscured by the rise in gas prices but otherwise the hit was as bad as some of us expected and PAT denied... and still denies.

btw.. I have plotted the monthly data, not the quarterly data.

Also, this chart errs on a side to look better than the impact would be if you just looked at bus trips which would be the fairer comparison for this question... since T ridership has held up better. If you did just bus mode trends PAT compares worse. So the impact of the route cuts is obscured by that as well. What has been the bus mode decline since before the cuts?

I didn't pick the Oct 2006 point for any reason... but I tell you what, I will do a longer time series and plot it against employment in allegheny county. Wanna bet it shows a more significant decline? How far back should I go? I bet ridership held up pretty steady until say the mid part of this decade.

Saturday, April 25, 2009 9:40:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

The above post on Murphy got be thinking as to why high gas prices might not have driven people to the bus in Pittsburgh as much as happened in other cities. Not that the cuts didn't play their role, but between the parking tax and the generally compressed nature of the city, I'm guessing gas prices just don't matter as much here. I know in my own case, even with gas at $4 a gallon, I paid more to park than I did for gas. And fixed costs of car ownership (insurance, oil, tires, etc.) were also more than gas.

Saturday, April 25, 2009 11:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Ken Zapinski said...

By using October 2006 -- or actually, any October, since the seasonal fluctuations in transit ridership make October one of the peak months in the year -- your graph could inadvertently leave viewers with the wrong impression.

A casual glance at the graph might lead one to believe that the Port Authority ridership decline since October 2006 is in the neighborhood of 10-12%, when in fact it is less than 3%.

Perhaps a more useful graph would show year-over-year comparison for each month, similar to the standard practice in the retail industry, another highly seasonal industry.

Monday, April 27, 2009 8:33:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

fine ken... just for you I will post the full picture. Don't blame me when it puts to shame the Port Authority's public statements that ridership is even holding its own. Why you don't quibble with them I don't understand. But lets wait for the picture. Didnt have time over the weekend, but tonight maybe. '

any by the way.. I've rechecked all numbers and that graph is right. Using October may have those issues in real numbers. but the point was to compare to the national trend and I made it an index to minimize distortions. One way or another... economy here doing better than most everywhere else yet ridership is falling further behind.

Monday, April 27, 2009 9:37:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

Maybe you should wait in case the swine flu forces PAT to shut down.

Monday, April 27, 2009 10:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Ken Zapinski said...

Chris said: "the route cuts cut ridership. Remember all those claims it wouldnt."

I'm not sure what claims you're referring to.

According to this June 22, 2007 Port Authority press release, the June 2007 service cuts, combined with the September 2007 service cuts (which never took place) "will produce an estimated 11 percent drop in ridership..." (

Or this July 7, 2007, Post-Gazette article: "The Port Authority is projecting that the June service cuts will cause a 4 percent drop in ridership..." (

Monday, April 27, 2009 1:45:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

egads.. how many ways to I have to say it. They don't get credit for the historic increases in gas prices and the impacts they still have on trends. You have to compare to the nation at the very least. I also don't think the impact of the route cuts are over.. overcrowding that has resulted is probably pushing more people into cars, but some don't have the option to do that without a lag.. getting on waiting lists for parking in oakland for example can take years... and as you know as well as anyone, sheer lack of parking spaced downtown saves them from some loss of market share.

Monday, April 27, 2009 1:49:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Speaking of Oakland waitlists, it would be nice if Pitt would let you put your pass aside for the summer without losing your place. The 61c is passable in the summer (usually), but it took my 8 months to get my pass.

Monday, April 27, 2009 9:19:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Ken, first off I figured out the confusion. If I was not clear I apologize. My graph is for bus trips.. I think you are referencing overall trips which includes the T. When considering the impact of route cuts I think the bus trips are the appropriate metric since the route cuts in question were all for bus routes. That T ridership has done relatively better is its own topic and one that does not help most who do not live near a T route. So to combine the two and discuss the impact of the route cuts does not make much sense to me... even before taking into account in the impact of gas prices.

anyway.. more unemployment news out which I may comment on first. but I have made a lot more transit trends graphs I will put up in coming days... I'll steer clear of index numbers and plot the raw data to avoid any confusion.

and I do have a long rant about what the PAT folks said about their projected ridership loss at any of the public comment sessions they scheduled.. and how different it was from some of the things you can find in their official statements.. but I'll leave that be. Too much water under the bridge to even come back to that.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 2:22:00 AM  

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