Public transportation plays a crucial role in moving people around the Capital Region—providing nearly two million trips, on average, each weekday.1 Of the five million workers in the region, about one in 10 takes public transportation to work.2 At least 30 different agencies provide some form of public transportation in the region, including local and commuter buses, light rail and subways, commuter rail, vanpools, ferries, and paratransit.3
Public transportation provides multiple economic benefits. For some people, it is the only means of accessing the jobs or education needed for upward mobility. For others, it provides a cost-effective way to get around—freeing up resources to save or spend in the regional economy. High-quality, frequent transit can also increase the value of nearby property and can reduce the need to provide parking, which saves money for building owners and developers.
However, public transportation ridership is declining throughout the region. While this decline mirrors a national trend, the Capital Region’s rate of ridership decline from 2010 to 2017 far exceeded the national average.4 Declining public transportation ridership can adversely impact the region’s economy and increase congestion on our roadways. Declining ridership also increases operating costs for the service, which represents a drain on our municipal budgets and can lead to service cuts. As service levels decline, access to jobs is constrained and employers’ potential talent pool shrinks.
|Capital Region total||+17%||-16%|
|Baltimore metro area||+8%||-19%|
|Washington metro area||+19%||-15%|
|Richmond metro area||-2%||-23%|
Source: TransitCenter analysis of National Transit Database data. Metro area totals include all transit systems within the metro area.
|% of Jobs accessible by car within 45 minutes||% OF TOTAL JOBS ACCESSIBLE BY TRANSIT WITHIN 45 MINUTES|
Source: Greater Washington Partnership analysis generated using Citilabs Sugar Dataset
|Total Workers Without Car||Transit Commuters Without Car|
|Baltimore metro area||5%||35%|
|Washington metro area||6%||23%|
|Richmond metro area||3%||36%|
Source: U.S. Census American Community Survey
The Capital Region has already made significant investments in public transportation, but more needs to be done. The region should prioritize public transportation in its planning and funding decisions. Other mobility options—such as carshare, bikeshare, and rideshare—should be leveraged to complement public transportation. With increased coordination, transit agencies and state and local governments can create a seamless, integrated network of high-performing public transportation options to serve the region’s mobility needs.
Capital Region Performance
Public transportation in the Capital Region provides nearly two million trips each day—reducing congestion and emissions and providing affordable access to jobs and services. Public transportation is particularly important for older adults, young employees, lower-income residents, students, the disabled, and those who do not own cars. While only about 5 percent of workers in the Capital Region lack regular access to a vehicle, about a quarter of transit commuters lack cars.5 For the Baltimore and Richmond metro areas, that figure is more than one-third.6 Limited transit service in these areas denies access to upward economic mobility for many people—and limits the region’s ability to grow.
Large gaps still exist in the Capital Region’s public transportation network, putting many jobs and activity centers out of reach except by car. While recent efforts to improve bus networks in Richmond and Baltimore have increased job access in some places, commuters who rely on transit still cannot get to jobs in many parts of the region within a reasonable timeframe—particularly in suburban areas. This gap denies too many people access to opportunity.
The region’s bus networks—the primary transit vehicle in much of the region—often lack adequate political support to close these service gaps, and properly coordinate and prioritize efficient bus movement. The entire Capital Region has just 12.5 miles of dedicated bus lanes, which are proven to increase the speed, reliability, and ridership of buses.7 Of the thousands of intersections in the region, there are just over 300 intersections enabled with transit signal priority (TSP), which prioritizes bus movement through the intersections to reduce trip times and improve reliability.8 Richmond’s new Pulse bus rapid transit (BRT) is the only bus service in the region that allows off-board fare payment to speed up boarding. In comparison, San Francisco MTA buses have used all-door boarding and tap-and-go fare collection since 2012.9 Seattle’s deployment of dedicated bus lanes, bus priority at intersections, higher frequency routes, and faster fare payment has led to a 16 percent increase in bus ridership since 2010.10
Many regional entities have public transportation improvement plans, but the Capital Region lacks a coordinated strategy for identifying and implementing priority projects. Improving the performance of the region’s public transportation systems will require coordinated action by multiple agencies. Maryland Transit Administration’s (MTA) new high-frequency network requires bus-only lanes and traffic signal changes on downtown roads owned by the City of Baltimore. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) new mobile fare payment system will need to integrate with other bus and rail systems in the region that use the SmarTrip card. The Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC), the city of Richmond, and Henrico County successfully launched the Pulse BRT along Broad and Main Streets, but the region has no strategy for delivering the next phase of transit improvements.
By working together, the various public transportation agencies across the region can offer higher-quality and more expansive service—and attractive fares—that can better compete with other transportation options and increase ridership. In Hamburg, Germany—a metro area with roughly the same population served as WMATA—the public transportation association coordinates 29 public transportation operators, and has successfully grown ridership across the metro area by 72 percent from 1990 to 2015, to more than 750 million trips annually.11 That’s nearly twice as many trips as WMATA provided in 2015.12 In addition to increased ridership, more frequent and reliable public transportation in the Capital Region will improve access to essential destinations—opening up a wider range of employment and educational opportunities for residents.
- Increase the speed and reliability of Baltimore’s transit system while establishing a bold vision for an expanded system
- Optimize Washington’s bus network and enhance coordination of the metro area’s public transportation options
- Expand rapid transit options to better connect consumers with essential destinations throughout the Richmond metro area
- National Transit Database, 2016.
- Partnership analysis of U.S. Census American Community Survey data.
- Includes all agencies providing service in the Capital Region that reported to the National Transit Database in 2016.
- “TransitCenter’s NTD Transit Ridership Analysis, 2002-2017,” TransitCenter, May 2018, https://transitcenter.org/2018/05/01/ transitcenters-ntd-transit-ridership-analysis-2002-2017.
- Partnership analysis of U.S. Census American Community Survey data.
- Partnership analysis of data provided by MTA, WMATA, and GRTC.
- "Better Boarding, Better Buses: Streamlining Boarding & Fares," National Association of City Transportation Officials and TransitCenter, 2017, https://nacto.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/NACTO_Better-Buses_Boarding.pdf.
- “TransitCenter’s NTD Transit Ridership Analysis, 2002-2017,” TransitCenter, May 2018. https://transitcenter.org/2018/05/01/ transitcenters-ntd-transit-ridership-analysis-2002-2017.
- Buehler, Ralph, John Pucher, and Oliver Dümmler. “Verkehrsverbund: The evolution and spread of fully integrated regional public transport in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.” International Journal of Sustainable Transportation (2018). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15568318.2018.1431821?scroll=top&needAccess=true.
- Partnership analysis of ridership data.