With only a handful of exceptions, transit ridership has stagnated or been falling throughout the US in 2017. The causes of this slump have been unclear but some theories suggest low fuel prices, a growing economy fueling increased car ownership, and the increasing prevalence of ride-hailing services are the cause.
A few North American agencies have bucked the trend, including Seattle, Phoenix, Houston, and Montreal. By far the biggest growth was at Vancouver, BC’s Translink, which saw a ridership growth of 5.7 percent in 2017.
But notice the big picture: In a year when urban transit ridership fell overall in the US, it rose in Canada.
There are three interesting stories to note here.
1. If You Run More Service, You Get More Riders
Canadian ridership among metro areas with populations beyond one million is up about 1.3% while regions of the same size in the US saw an overall ridership decrease of about 2.5% in 2017 despite the broad similarity of the countries and their urban forms. Why? Canadian cities just have more service per capita than the most comparable US cities. This results in transit networks that remain more broadly useful in the face of competition from other modes. Note, too, that Canadian transit isn’t cuter, sexier, or more “demand responsive” than transit in the US. There is simply more of it, so more people ride, so transit is more deeply imbedded in the culture and politics.