A Transit Usage Study Ranks Athens, Georgia in Fourth Place

How do you define the success of a transit system? There are several potential ways one might think of, such as number of passengers or number of stations. The problem with such measures is that they will always favor large populations over smaller ones. Over at FiveThirtyEight, Reuben Fischer-Baum decided to use another measure to calculate transit efficiency. Transit agencies report to the government the number of passenger trips taken on their systems. The population of the area served by a transit system can be determined fairly accurately. By dividing the total number of trips by the population, you can determine the number of trips per capita, and use that figure to determine efficiency.

By this measure, New York City comes out on top, with 229.8 trips per person. The city’s extensive subway and bus system and the extremely high cost of driving and parking in Manhattan make using transit a no-brainer. Second place is San Francisco / Oakland California, with 131.5 trips per person. Expensive housing inside the city core that necessitates commutes, and San Francisco Bay, with limited crossing points for cars promotes transit use in the bay area. Third is Washington, DC, with 99.6 trips per person.

What might surprise you is number four. That would be Athens / Clarke County Georgia, with 99.5 trips per person.

What would make Athens a transit paradise? Atlanta has MARTA rail, and only comes in 30.8 trips per person. The FiveThirtyEight story doesn’t offer an explanation, but the answer is apparent if you look at the raw data compiled by the Federal Transit Administration. There are two transit systems serving Athens. The one you are most likely to think of is Athens Transit. That agency had a little over 1.7 million passenger trips in 2013, serving a population of 128,615 people. That works out to be 13.5 trips per person, a little bit better than Albany, with 11.0 trips per capita, and a little worse then Savannah, with 16.1.

The difference is that other transit system. That would be the one operated by the University of Georgia. That system recorded a little over 11 million trips in 2013, taking students to and from campus locations and off campus housing. And when you consider that the system only serves students and employees, roughly 44,000 people, as opposed to the entire metro area, its trips per capita number is 251.6, higher even than New York City.

The situation at UGA is almost ideal for strong transit use: a student and faculty population large enough to make dedicated transit feasible, the entire population works on a campus that is large enough to make riding from one end to the other appealing, and it’s an environment that doesn’t lend itself to cars very well. The presence of a large university might explain why there is such high usage in Champaign, IL (University of Illinois); State College, PA (Penn State); and Gainesville, FL (University of Florida).

As mentioned above, Atlanta averages 30.8 trips per person. That’s just ahead of Buffalo, NY and Cleveland, Ohio, and just behind Miami and Spokane, WA. Transit in Atlanta has often been compared to Washington, DC, given that heavy rail service was launched at roughly the same time, and the population of the two metro areas is similar. Yet, DC has 99.6 trios per capita, more than three times the number of trips than Atlanta. The FiveThirtyEight story says that there is a strong relationship between trips per resident and both total population and population density. While the two cities have roughly the same population Atlanta, with 2,645 square miles is half as dense as Washington, with 1,322 square miles.

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IrishPat
IrishPat

A good way to evaluate efficiency if you are in the transit business. However if you are a taxpayer a better way to measure efficiency might be the percentage of taxpayer dollars subsidizing operating costs of the system or the percent of revenue covering operating costs.

zedsmith
zedsmith

now turn that incisive logic toward the capital and maintenance expenses associated with road building.

gt7348b
gt7348b

There’s one flaw in this study – it calculates the larger Atlanta MSA not the area actually served by MARTA. A truer picture of transit use would calculate trips within the areas actually served and not include Cherokee, Fayette, Rockdale, etc.

gcp
gcp

Mass transit does not eliminate traffic problems as exemplified by DC and Toronto. Both have extensive public transit systems but still have serious traffic problems but yes, public transit does allow more people to move about a city.

Here in Georgia the accepted solution has been more highway projects which will be obsolete in a couple years and more toll lanes such as 85 in Gwinnett. My simplistic solution has always been more bus travel, HOV lanes, perhaps more rapid transit funded and approved by counties/cities and some city/county road improvements. Employers must also consider transit availability when locating a business.

Andrew C. Pope
Andrew C. Pope

I agree mass transit doesn’t eliminate traffic. But, I can only imagine how much worse DC traffic would be without Metro. DC is a unique situation in the sheer proportion of commuters living outside the District (thanks to DC’s density and building height limitations). I lived in the District, so taking 14th to work was never a big deal traffic-wise. I know that folks in my office who commuted in from Arlington, Silver Spring, Bethesda, etc. had a little more difficult a time. But that was mostly volume on two-lane streets. Nothing you can really do about that. The worst… Read more »

gcp
gcp

“multi-lane toll/HOV around portions of the beltway” You may get your wish. The plan is to add several lanes to 285. Don’t know if they will be toll or not nor do I know how they add lanes without major disruption.

John Konop
John Konop

Very interesting solution they are trying in China.

……….Can China’s Futuristic ‘Straddling Bus’ Finally Become a Reality?……..

http://www.citylab.com/tech/2016/05/can-chinas-futuristic-straddling-bus-finally-become-a-reality/483953/

xdog
xdog

Last week the Athens Transit System was named Urban Community Transportation System of the Year by a national industry group.
http://www.athensclarkecounty.com/civicalerts.aspx?AID=1398

Also, Gainesville’s got buses?

gt7348b
gt7348b

Gainesville Florida.

xdog
xdog

That’s what I inferred. Gainesville’s got roads?

gt7348b
gt7348b

Ha! Yes, Gainesville has roads. I grew up taking their public transit home from school on occasion.

Andrew C. Pope
Andrew C. Pope

We’re number 4! We’re number 4! We’re number 4!

Great job, Athens.

davidmac
davidmac

Champaign-Urbana’s MTD is a pretty good system – but has the advantage of three core transit hubs (Champaign transit plaza, Illini Union, and Urbana Center), and spokes radiating out from each of them. Not to mention that the university is the leading employer – and at least 5 routes serve only the campus.

zedsmith
zedsmith

Other observations regarding Athens transportation: 1) As people mentioned elsewhere, Athens does indeed still have a traffic problem. There are corridors on campus that are miserable to drive through between classes. The UGA Busses provide a *very* reliable alternative. They operate on what feel like 5 minute headways, and there are only a handful of routes, so you don’t need bus schedules or a smartphone app to know where you’re going. Its not exactly the same, but it reminds me of the New Orleans bus network in how intelligible it is. 2) The UGA Busses are “free” as in free… Read more »