Does Transit Service Reliability Influence Ridership?

The road infrastructure has not been developed at the rate of increasing travel demand in many cities in the United States, mainly due to space and resource constraints. Practitioners are exploring other avenues to increase public transportation ridership with economically efficient investment plans to meet the travel demand, reduce congestion, and contribute to sustainability. In spite of these ongoing efforts, recent statistics indicate that ridership has decreased in many cities in the United States, and bus ridership alone fell by 5% in 2017 compared to the previous year.

There is a need to research and identify factors that encourage the use of public transportation systems over other modes of transportation. The availability of transit service, frequency of the transit service, and reliability based on transit performance are a few factors that affect transit ridership. The perception of transit service reliability among riders is based on on-time arrival/departure and waiting time. Yet, intra-city bus services often show inconsistencies in on-time arrival/departure at bus stops, thereby, influencing ridership. This could be because buses share their travel space with other transportation modes, making them vulnerable to recurrent and non-recurrent congestion.

The most commonly used measure of bus transit service reliability is on-time performance. Different on-time performance thresholds are used by public transportation agencies to define bus transit service reliability. The relationships between the on-time performance threshold and ridership were not explored widely in the past. There is a need to research and better understand the relationship between on-time performance threshold and ridership.

The on-time performance could vary over space, by time, and with the direction of travel. The effect of transit service reliability on ridership could depend on road-network, demographic, and land use characteristics within the vicinity of a stop/station. For example, low-income groups may perceive bus transit service reliability differently than medium- or high-income groups.

This research, therefore, aims to analyze the relationships between transit service reliability indicators and ridership. Further, it aims to analyze the effect of road network, demographic, and land use characteristics on these relationships. The findings will help public transportation agencies to effectively utilize available resources, plan, and provide equitable services to all transit system riders.

Mineta Consortium for Transportation Mobility
UNC Charlotte
Principal Investigator: 
Srinivas S. Pulugurtha, PhD
PI Contact Information: 

Director of IDEAS Center
Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
9201 University City Boulevard
Charlotte, NC 28223-0001
Tel. (W): +1 704 687 1233

Funding Source(s) and Amounts Provided (by each agency or organization): 

U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

Total Project Cost: 
Agency ID or Contract Number: 
February 2021 to December 2021
Impacts/Benefits of Implementation: 

The final report will include findings pertaining to the relationship between transit service reliability and ridership. The correlation analysis will help understand the influence of road network, demographic, and land use characteristics on transit service reliability and ridership. Findings from the spatial and temporal analysis will help strategize solutions/policies like “transit signal priority”, limiting the number of bus stops along a route or using “articulated buses” along a route.

Project Number: 



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