SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – It seems like trains and buses are more packed than ever. But overall, the Bay Area is actually depending less on public transit.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has found there has been a 3 percent overall transit ridership increase over the past two decades. But during the same time, a 14 percent decline in per capita transit ridership. Factoring in our population growth, the region is becoming less dependent on public transit.

But it’s a mixed bag. While there are more people on BART and Caltrain, fewer people are taking Bay Area buses, even on San Francisco’s busy Muni lines.

“Is ridership down as a result of the service cuts? Or where those service cuts instituted because ridership is down,” said John Goodwin of the MTC.

One factor is sprawling growth in suburban areas. “Where driving a car is the only viable option. Now recently you see a bit of a reversal,” Goodwin said.

Veronica Hattrup with Gray-Bowen-Scott, Walnut Creek-based a transportation consulting company, sees that as well. “There’s a generational shift in public transportation use. And I see the younger generations relying on it more heavily,” Hattrup said.

But to make it work for more of us, mass transit needs to nail down the first and last mile of our commute. A model program is the Emery Go-Round that drives people from BART to various spots throughout Emeryville. It has seen a 20 percent increase in 3 years.

“I think frequency is the most important things when you are dealing with last mile connections and bus service,” Hattrup said.

There’s more focus these days on transit villages, more telecommuting, car sharing and bike riding. So where we are now, may not be where we’re going. “What’s more interesting is to see what the facts are a year from now, two years from now. Five years from now,” Goodwin said.

By then, we may have to factor in self-driving cars.

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