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On Ridership and Frequency

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Document pages: 27 pages

Abstract: Even before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, bus ridership in the UnitedStates had 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 on weekdays using passengercount data from Portland, Miami, Minneapolis St-Paul, and Atlanta between 2012and 2018. In every agency, ridership is found to be elastic to frequency whenobserving the variation between individual route-segments at one point in time.In other words, the most frequent routes are already the most productive interms of passengers per vehicle-trip. When observing the variation within eachroute-segment over time, however, ridership is inelastic; each additionalvehicle-trip is expected to generate less ridership than the average busalready on the route. In three of the four agencies, the elasticity is adecreasing function of prior frequency, meaning that low-frequency routes arethe most sensitive to changes in frequency. This paper can help transitagencies anticipate the marginal effect of shifting service throughout thenetwork. As the quality and availability of passenger count data improve, thispaper can serve as the methodological basis to explore the dynamics of busridership.

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