Transit use amount

Should people use more transit? Yes, many think, but not me, the other person should. How many actually do use transit, in the US? How does that compare to other countries?

To analyze transit use, as well as personal vehicle use, it helps to look at transportation history. A little over a century ago, people met their daily needs of transportation by walking & riding horses. Then public transit started with trains and streetcars—pulled by horses. People were obviously able to cover farther distances. Urban areas grew in population and area, with a fairly high density. That density, for core cities, is was much higher than currently, but similar to many foreign cities, such as Paris & Mumbai. Although, not London, which has about the same density as Chicago. London has more workers, which means more commuters.There was a continual movement from rural areas to urban areas, with economic advancement, entailing fewer people required to meet agricultural needs, and more resources going into other products and services.

The chart shows U.S. population since 1870. The % of people living in urban areas surpassed that of rural areas in about 1918. Between 1940 & 1950, urbanization increased from 57% to 61%. Since 1970, urbanization has had a mild rise from 74% to 84%. For mechanized travel, mass transit was about the only available form in 1910; shown in graph at lower right. With the exception of the 1940s, the sheer amount in total distance traveled via mass transit has declined ever since, along with its percentage of the total. Since 1960, public transit as a portion of all travel has slightly declined, while the use of personal vehicles increased dramatically.

For many years now, the overall national transit use, as measured, has been around 4%. It’s counted as “commuting” to work. Many “commuters” have a car too, usually riding regional rail, for work trips, mostly to downtown.

Only a few urban areas have a significant level of transit use, specifically the core cities of the urban areas in the chart, showing the transit use for the 7 largest transit markets. The % shown is of all transit use in the US. So, the NYC area has 42% of all transit commuters in the nation. Looking at the “all other areas” portion, means that of all regular transit users, 75% live in one of those 7 areas & ¼ live elsewhere. The “elsewhere” comprises about 75% of the population.

Among those 7 cities, only 4 cities have a really widespread transit are with transit use, within the core city, ranging from 27% to 54%. Only those 4 cities have high densities, ranging from 11,000 to 26,000. The next 2 large cities, D.C. & Boston, fit in the category of high transit use, along with density at 8,000 & 10,000. After those 7 high transit use cities, the next highest density city, LA, at almost 8,000 [people/sq.mi.], has the next highest transit use, 11%—less than half.

The main point of that is that for transit to be widespread and have a high use, there needs to be a high density, with about 11,000 being the threshold. Along with that high density, comes a high concentration of jobs, in the CBD. Without the centralized location of destinations, transit would certainly not work as well. There aren’t any high density areas without that concentration of jobs. In other words, cities with high transit use, have main routes to have a downtown.

As for high concentrations of jobs in CBDs, there has been a decentralizing trend for many decades. Also, there are many types of jobs, such as non-office, that aren’t necessarily conducive to downtowns. There are many “reverse commuters,” and of course, in the early 70s, the total number of people living in suburbs, surpassed those living in the central cities.

Many people desire to live in a central city, but work elsewhere. In examining commuting, I looked at 2000 Census data of Daytime Populations for all cities above 400,000, totaling 40 million, which was about 14% of the total nation, at the time. The urban areas represented by those cities have about 40% of all people. Keep in mind that only city data was looked at, not urban areas. Those 40 cities are in about 35 urban areas, with there sometimes being more than one central city.

Below are the rail maps for the 2 major transit cities, Chicago & New York City. Their amount of high rises is a big indicator.



Japan has a high amount of transit use. It’s cities are very dense & car use is more expensive. Honk Kong has a very high transit use, but cannot be compared to most countries, since it is less than 400 sq.mi. & on many islands. It’s basically one closed urban area. It’s urban density is about 75,000/sq.mi.

Planning for new transit involves making projections, using complicated models. The results are usually faulty. Occams’s Razor is forgotten. The views of the potential rider are ignored, but assumed.

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About Randall
A contrarian, not for conflict, but because many decisions are made, without considering the full impact & consequences.

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