Light rail transit attracts new ridership – not just former bus riders

Another gem from the Moving Across Places Studies (MAPS).  Objective measures from a quasi-experimental study of a new light rail transit (LRT) line in Salt Lake City, Utah, provides evidence that LRT generates new ridership rather than simply cannibalizing ridership from the existing bus system:

Werner CM, , Brown BB, Tribby CP, Tharp D, Flick K, Miller HJ, Smith KR, Jensen W (2016)  “Evaluating the attractiveness of a new light rail extension: Testing simple change and displacement change hypotheses,” Transport Policy, 45, 5–23.  doi:10.1016/j.tranpol.2015.09.003

Abstract.  Many communities in the United States have been adding new light rail to bus-predominant public transit systems. However, there is disagreement as to whether opening light rail lines attracts new ridership or merely draws ridership from existing transit users. We study a new light rail line in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, which is part of a complete street redevelopment. We utilize a pre-test post-test control group quasi-experimental design to test two different measures of ridership change. The first measure is calculated from stops along the light rail route; the second assumes that nearby bus stops might be displaced by the rail and calculates ridership change with those stops included as baseline. Both the simple measure (transit use changes on the complete street light rail corridor) and the “displacement” measure (transit use changes in the one-quarter mile catchment areas around new light rail stops) showed significant (p<.01) and substantial (677%) increases in transit passengers compared to pre-light rail bus users. In particular, the displacement analysis discredits a common challenge that when a new light rail line opens, most passengers are simply former bus riders whose routes were canceled in favor of light rail. The study suggests that light rail services can attract additional ridership to public transit systems. In addition, although pre-post control-group designs require time and effort, this project underscores the benefits of such quasi-experimental designs in terms of the strength of the inferences that can be drawn about the impacts of new transit infrastructure and services.