Feb 13, 2024 - Transit

Cleveland RTA's slow and steady ridership gains

A color photo through a black chain link fence of an Airport-bound RTA Red Line train.

Airport-bound Red Line train. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

Public transit ridership in Cleveland is now around two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels.

  • That's based on data presented to the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Board of Trustees last month.

Why it matters: Public transit — whether it's buses, trains or paratransit vehicles — is key to Cleveland's health and vibrancy.

  • It makes for a cleaner and greener city, opens up possibilities for the 25% of city residents who don't own a personal vehicle, and frees up parking lots to be used instead for housing and parks.

Driving the news: This week is Ohio Loves Transit Week. The Ohio Public Transit Association and transit agencies statewide are celebrating the impact of public transit on riders.

By the numbers: RTA provided 21.9 million rides in 2023, up 16.5% from the 18.8 million rides in 2022.

  • Yes, but: That's still a far cry from the 32.1 million rides in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic.

The big picture: As of September 2023, only nine metros with 500,000 or more people had public transit ridership that equaled or exceeded their ridership in 2019, Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report from American Public Transportation Association (APTA) data.

  • Poughkeepsie, New York (150.3%); Worcester, Massachusetts (141%); and Youngstown (130%) had the highest rates this past September, compared with four years earlier.

Between the lines: Some of the country's biggest public transit systems have shown signs of life recently — likely in part a reflection of employers dragging workers back into the office.

What's happening: Cities have experimented with various tactics to boost transit ridership after rates plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as free rides and new routes.

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