MTI study examines failure, success of rail systems

Posted on December 3, 2009

Portland, Ore., and San Diego emerged as leaders in a new study examining the reasons why rail transit systems are successful in particular metropolitan areas.

The report, "The Influence of Service Planning Decisions on Rail Transit Success or Failure," published by the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) and examines 11 U.S. metropolitan areas with populations of one to five million.

Conducted by Jeffrey Brown, PhD, and Gregory Thompson, PhD, the report examines how service planning decisions facilitate transit success, in particular.

The research found that successful transit systems:

  • articulate a clear, multi-destination vision for regional transit
  • rely on rail transit as the system's backbone
  • recognize the importance of travel outside the central business district
  • encourage transfers to reach more destinations
  • recognize that rail transit alone is not enough to guarantee success
  • recognize the importance of serving regional destinations

"Based on our definitions of ridership success and productivity success, two metropolitan areas emerge as leaders: Portland and San Diego," said Dr. Brown. "Portland ended the researched period with the largest riding habit and percentage growth in riding habit, along with a very large increase in productivity. San Diego's riding habit increased by almost 30 percent, almost tied with Denver and Atlanta, but lower than Portland and Miami."

For this study's purposes, riding habit success means that transit patronage, or passenger miles, keeps pace with or exceeds population growth. Service productivity success means that a metropolitan area's transit agencies experience productivity increases or declines less severe than the national average — overall, national service productivity fell 14 percent from 1984-2004.

The free report can be downloaded from www.transweb.sjsu.edu. Click "Research" and then "Publications." Scroll down to the report.


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