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Status of the Nation's Highways, Bridges, and Transit:
2006 Conditions and Performance
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Chapter 4: Executive Summary

Operational Performance: Transit

Transit operational performance can be measured and evaluated on a number of different factors, including the speed of passenger travel, vehicle utilization, and service frequency.

Average operating speed in 2004 was higher than in 2002, and above its 10-year average. Average operating speed is an approximate measure of the speed experienced by transit riders and is affected by dwell times and the number of stops. In 2004, the average operating speed for all transit modes was 20.1 miles per hour, up from 19.9 in 2002, and above its 10-year average of 20.3. The average speed of nonrail modes was 14.0 miles per hour in 2004, up from 13.7 in miles per hour in 2002. The average speed for rail was 25.0 miles per hour in 2004, down from 25.3 in 2002.

Average vehicle utilization levels were lower in 2004 than in 2002 for all modes except demand response, ferryboat, and vanpool. Vehicle utilization is measured as passenger miles per vehicle operated in maximum service adjusted to reflect differences in the passenger-carrying capacities of transit vehicles. On average, rail vehicles operate at a higher level of utilization than nonrail vehicles. Commuter rail has consistently had the highest vehicle utilization rate, and demand response the lowest.

Vehicle Utilization Passenger Miles per Capacity-Equivalent Vehicle
(Thousands of Passenger Miles)Utilization
Commuter Rail769755
Heavy Rail655652
Light Rail533468
Demand Response168181

Changes in the capacity utilization of rail vehicles influence these vehicle operating speeds through changes in dwell times. As the capacity utilization of commuter rail, heavy rail, and light rail declined from 2001 to 2003, average rail speed increased; and as the capacity utilization of heavy and commuter rail increased from 2003 to 2004, average rail speed decreased.

Index of Rail Speed and Capacity Utilization of Rail Vehicles. Line chart showing index of rail speed and capacity utilization of rail vehicles in percent for selected years, with year 2000 values representing 100 percent. The plot for rail speed starts at under 110 percent in 1995 and trends downward to 100 percent in 2000, then swings slightly up and back to 100 percent by 2004. The plot for heavy rail utilization starts at under 100 percent in 1995, swings down and then up to 100 percent in 2000, then swings down and slightly up again to reach 90 percent by 2004. The plot for light rail utilization starts at above 90 percent in 1995, swings above 100 percent by 1998, drops to 100 percent in 2000 and 2002, and drops to above 80 percent by 2004. The plot for commuter rail utilization starts at above 80 percent in 1995, swings up to 100 percent in 2000, then swings down to 90 percent by 2004.

Most passengers who ride transit wait in areas that have frequent service. The 2001 National Household Travel Survey found that 49 percent of all passengers who ride transit wait for 5 minutes or less for a vehicle to arrive, and 75 percent wait 10 minutes or less. Nine percent of passengers wait for more than 20 minutes. To some extent, waiting times are correlated with incomes. Passengers with annual incomes above $65,000 are more likely to wait less time for a transit vehicle than passengers with incomes lower than $30,000. Higher-income passengers are more likely to be choice riders; passengers with lower incomes are more likely to use transit for basic mobility and to have more limited alternative means of travel.

Passengers by Waiting Times. Horizontal bar chart showing percent of passenger in five categories of waiting time. The value for 5 minutes or less is 48.5 percent; the value for 6 to 10 minutes is 26.6 percent; the value for 11 to 15 minutes is 9.8 percent; the value for 16 to 20 minutes is 6.0 percent; and the value for more than 20 minutes is 9.1 percent.
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