The 2019 TransitCenter study Who’s on Board? How to Win Back America’s Transit Riders is out, and makes interesting, easy reading.  There’s also a concise readable summary in the TransitCenter article Who’s on Board? Riders Explain Why They’re Using Transit Less — And How to Win Them Back.  Most of the below are direct quotes or paraphrases from the study.

Main Suggestions

  • all-door boarding to speed buses
  • data-driven dispatching to improve bus reliability,
  • more shelters to give riders a dignified experience waiting for the bus.
  • more service on high-ridership routes or
  • redesigning outdated bus networks for current travel needs
  • transit policy in crafted in coordination with housing and development policy

Building near transit is the biggest factor 
For urban transportation leaders, the most critical policy imperative is making opportunities accessible without a car. New transportation technologies, like TNCs, shared bikes and scooters, and autonomous vehicles dominate headlines about “the future of transportation.” But the most important transportation choice today’s mayors and agency leaders face is an old one: Do we build places where residents must use cars to get to most jobs, schools, and other destinations? Or, do we enable more people to meet their travel needs with public transit and a combination of other modes?

Government favors cars 
US transportation policy and finance are backwards-looking, characterized by huge hidden public subsidies to roads and cars. As long as policies make driving artificially cheap and local zoning regulations encourage the dispersal of jobs and housing, transit in the US will be at a competitive disadvantage.
To preserve transit ridership—and other sustainable modes that supplement transit use—federal, state, and local governments must correct these systemic, deep-rooted urban planning and financing regimes that force car dependence. Where tenable non-car options exist, cities should charge drivers for parking and street use to reflect their true public costs and to rein in traffic. Charging a value that reflects the scarcity of street space can reduce unnecessary car use, make other modes more competitive, and open up street space for surface transit. Crucially, these fees can be committed back to transit, providing the funding needed to improve service fundamentals and make it a more efficient and desirable travel option.

Don’t count on millennial riders
Some transit agencies enjoyed a “demographic bump” over the past decade, as Millennials (i.e., those born between 1981 and 1996) entered the workforce and used transit more than prior generations. Yet Millennials now face the life changes that tend to push people away from transit, and just like generations before them, getting older means their propensity for using transit has gone down. Members of Generation Z have not fully replaced Millennial transit use—contributing to rider-ship decline (TransitCenter analysis of National Household Travel Survey data from 2009 and 2017 (US Department of Transportation, 2018), https://nhts.ornl.gov/)

TransitUseTypes2017-19 350x400

People are cutting back on transit, not abandoning it
Overwhelmingly, survey respondents who abandon or substantially scale back their transit use replace those trips with increased private car use…The number of “all-purpose” riders who use transit daily is diminishing, but the number of occasional riders who take transit once a week or so is on the rise…agencies have an opportunity to regain ridership by offering these riders more appealing service.

Poor transit is pushing people into cars
Even in transit-rich cities, poor service quality is pushing people into cars: Riders in New York and Chicago were disproportionately likely to cite worse transit service as a reason for driving more. Nationwide, large numbers of people are opting to buy cars they can’t afford.

TNCs may or may not be a problem
In most cities, private cars — not Uber and Lyft — are the main competition for transit” – except “in dense, big cities like New York and Chicago, where we did find that transit is losing ground to these services more than private cars.” The survey did not include San Francisco.

Transit service worsens most when lower-income people move house
Low-income people use transit most often, but according to our survey they have had to move farther from quality transit than people with higher incomes. High-income respondents who moved did not experience as big a loss in transit quality.

Safety is about perception
Researchers from Monash University have found that whether someone feels comfortable traveling with strangers does more to predict whether they feel unsafe on transit than whethermthey had been personally attacked or threatened, or witnessed an attack or threat (Graham Currie, Alexa Delbosc, and Sarah Mahmoud, “Perceptions and Realities of Personal Safety on Public Transport for Young People in Melbourne,” paper presented at 33rd Australasian Transport Research Forum Conference, Canberra, Australia, September 29–October 1, 2010).
And transportation researchers have found only a weak relationship between perceptions of insecurity and actual crime rates. But agencies should not presume the disparity is a misperception that measurable crime statistics can correct. Addressing untreated mental illness or addiction leading to vagrancy in transit stations can help to mitigate some riders’ negative interactions that lead to perceptions of unsafe transit; in 2016, Los Angeles Metro began contracting with homelessness outreach teams, who have connected homeless people with services and housing (Elijah Chiland, “Metro’s Homeless Teams ‘Surprised’ by Level of Need on Red Line,” Curbed Los Angeles, March 22, 2018, https://la.curbed.com/2018/3/22/17152426/metro-homeless-encampments-red-line-outreach).
Philadelphia’s SEPTA has partnered with local nonprofits to open a homeless service center in one of its major stations (Heather Redfern, “Transit Facility Center Gives Help, Hope to Those ‘With Nowhere to Go,’” Metro Magazine, April 17, 2018, http://www.metro-magazine.com/blogpost/729382/hope-for-helping-the-homeless).
The physical design of transit vehicles, stops, and stations also contributes to a sense of safety. A substantial body of research has found that the design of transit facilities and the characteristics of neighborhoods where transit sits play roles in feelings of safety. Darkness and lack of others make people feel less secure—so do transit facilities that cut off people’s lines of sight (Loukaitou-Sideris and Fink, 2008 A. Addressing women’s fear of victimization in transportation settings: A survey of U.S. transit agencies, Urban Affairs Review , 44-4 2008).
Service characteristics also have implications for safety, such as the prospect of a long wait for transit that makes riders feel more vulnerable. At bus stops without shelters, riders perceive waits as longer than they actually are, especially in neighborhoods they view as unsafe (Yingling Fan, Andrew Guthrie, and David Levinson, Perception of Waiting Time at Transit Stops and Stations, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies, February 2016, http://hdl.handle.net/11299/180134).

Dealing with TNC competition is important but rarely crucial 
Most research suggests that in dense, transit-oriented cities, TNCs hurt transit more than they help. Increasingly, city governments are taxing and regulating TNCs in order to capture the true costs imposed on society. Some cities use the revenue to support transit—for example, as of October 2018, Washington, DC, charges a 6% fee on TNC trips that is split between WMATA and the Department of For-Hire Vehicles (So Jung Kim and Robert Puentes, “Taxing New Mobility Services: What’s Right? What’s Next?” Eno Center for Transportation, July 23, 2018, https:// www.enotrans.org/etl-material/eno-brief-taxing-new-mobility-services- whats-right-whats-next/). Despite the press and policy attention, the impact of TNCs compared to private cars should be kept in perspective. In New York City, “for-hire vehicles” (taxis and TNCs) still represent just 3% of trips; ten times as many trips are taken in private cars. [San Francisco and the Bay Area were not included in the study]

Limitations
The survey method may limit its reliability.  The authors say: “We used an online survey of respondents in seven regions, as well as focus groups in three regions, to explore the spectrum of factors influencing decisions to take transit. Respondents were asked to describe how they used transit and other modes now and two years ago.”  Some may not remember well.  San Francisco and the Bay Area were not included, so not all of the suggestions may apply here.