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On Ridership and Frequency

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Abstract: Even before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, bus ridership in the UnitedStates attained its lowest level since 1973. If transit agencies hope toreverse this trend, they must understand how their service allocation policiesaffect ridership. This paper is among the first to model ridership trends on ahyper-local level over time. A Poisson fixed-effects model is developed toevaluate the ridership elasticity to frequency using passenger count data fromPortland, Miami, Minneapolis St-Paul, and Atlanta between 2012 and 2018. Inevery agency, ridership is found to be elastic to frequency when observing thevariation between individual route-segments at one point in time. In otherwords, the most frequent routes are already the most productive. When observingthe variation within each route-segment over time, however, ridership isinelastic; each additional vehicle-trip is expected to generate less ridershipthan the average bus already on the route. In three of the four agencies, theelasticity is a decreasing function of prior frequency, meaning thatlow-frequency routes are the most sensitive to frequency change. This paper canhelp transit agencies anticipate the marginal effect of shifting servicethroughout the network. As the quality and availability of passenger count dataimprove, this paper can serve as the methodological basis to explore thedynamics of bus ridership.

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