Transit Utilization and Traffic Congestion: Is There a Connection?

Policy Study

Transit Utilization and Traffic Congestion: Is There a Connection?

Research finds no statistically significant evidence linking increases in transit utilization to reductions in congestion

  • Statistical analysis of the 74 largest urbanized areas in the U.S. over a 26-year period suggests that increasing transit utilization does not lead to a reduction in traffic congestion; nor does decreasing transit utilization lead to an increase in traffic congestion.
  • Policies designed to promote transit utilization can in certain instances increase traffic congestion-as appears to have been the case in Portland, Oregon.
  • Vehicle-miles traveled per freeway lane-mile is strongly correlated with traffic congestion: the more people drive relative to available freeway capacity, the worse congestion gets.
  • Data from New York and Los Angeles indicate that the most effective way to increase transit utilization is by reducing fares, as well as by improving basic, pre-existing service.


Thomas A. Rubin, CPA, CMA, CMC, CIA, CGFM, CFM is a mass transit consultant in Oakland, California. He served as Controller-Treasurer of the Southern California Rapid Transit District from 1989 until the SCRTD/LACTC merger that formed the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1993. Prior to joining the SCRTD, he was a partner in and National Transit Services Director for Deloitte Haskins & Sells (now Deloitte & Touche). He earned his BSBA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and his MBA from Indiana University-Bloomington.