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Connecting the Dots... Ridership Changes, Underlying Causes, and Strategies for Pasadena Transit

  • Author(s): Peraza, Jesus
  • Advisor(s): Taylor, Brian D.
  • et al.
Abstract

Over the past decade, public transit operators in the Los Angeles region started experiencing steep declines in ridership, while Pasadena Transit was adding riders. More recently, however, Pasadena Transit’s ridership plateaued and then started to decrease. The Transit Division of the City of Pasadena Department of Transportation (“the Client�) is therefore interested in understanding what may be causing transit ridership to decline in its jurisdiction, what are the circumstances driving these changes, and what these causes and circumstances suggest for ways to make the system more attractive to riders. This project aims to answer these questions by contrasting ridership trends with possible causal factors: vehicle access, commuting patterns, demographic changes (e.g., age), economic indicators (e.g., income), homelessness, and housing-market conditions. Increased vehicle ownership and use were discarded from the onset, since Pasadena residents, contrary to their L.A. County and California counterparts, are collectively disposing of private vehicles. The escalation of telecommuting is a likely contributor, given that the less that people physically travel to work, the less likely they are to ride transit. The aging of Pasadena’s population could be an influential factor as well, since younger populations (especially people in their early 20s and younger) are, by far, more likely to ride transit than seniors and much more likely than middle-aged people. Rising homelessness in Pasadena, which went up 28 percent from 2016 to 2018, might be incentivizing riders to seek other, more private, travel modes that spare them the discomfort of sharing space with homeless people. Yet, none of these longstanding trends explain, in a satisfactory manner, why Pasadena Transit’s healthy patronage base experienced mild declines in recent years. The homelessness upsurge did coincide with Pasadena’s faltering ridership, but it appears unlikely that this alone would significantly impact transit patronage. Moving or displacement of frequent transit users out of transit-rich areas appears to be the main culprit. Half of Pasadena’s households pay more than a third of their income in rent. A rent-burdened person who used to frequently ride on Pasadena Transit will need to take their “travel business� elsewhere when they get pushed out by a heavy influx of wealthy people, who are — at best — sporadic transit riders. This report recommends targeted marketing and awareness campaigns, informed by extensive surveying. This would help identify the population of unlikely riders, of travelers deterred from transit by the presence of homeless individuals, and of rent-burdened residents who have changed their travel patterns due to increased housing costs. All of these recommendations center on adapting to the needs of specific riders, which embodies the cornerstone of other cities’ recent successes in improving service and attracting riders, and is also mentioned throughout the literature as a “best practice� in the provision of public transit in the era of modern ridership decay.

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