Official US Government Icon

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure Site Icon

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Public Transportation Trips Per Capita

Indicator Description

This indicator measures the average number of public transportation trips that a resident takes per year in a given state or urbanized area. Data for this indicator come from the 2013 American Public Transit Association (APTA) Public Transportation Fact Book, which uses 2011 data from the National Transit Database.

Related Strategies

Transportation and Health Connection

Researchers have increasingly documented the health benefits of public transportation in recent years. Studies show clear linkages between public transportation use and lower levels of air pollution, improved safety, and higher physical activity levels.  On average use of public transportation instead of private vehicles produces 95% less carbon monoxide, 92% fewer volatile organic compounds, and 45% less carbon dioxide per passenger mile (APTA, 2002). As for safety, public transportation has the lowest fatality rate compared with other modes operating on highways (including fatality rates for bicyclists and pedestrians), in the air, on rails, and on water (U.S. DOT, 2015). The fatality rate associated with public transportation is roughly 1/25th that associated with private automobiles (APTA, 2007).

In terms of physical activity benefits, persons in communities that are walkable and have access to regular public transportation service typically depend less on personal vehicles. They also have increased physical activity levels (Rodriguez DA, Khattak, Evenson, 2006).  One study found that higher physical activity levels for transit users were observed only on transit days, with 14.6 minutes (12.4 minutes when adjusted for demographics) of daily physical activity directly linked with transit use (Saelens, 2014).  Walking to public transportation stations and bus stops contributes to meeting daily physical activity recommendations (Besser, Dannenberg, 2005). A health impact assessment of public transportation estimated that increased spending on public transportation can benefit health and reduce social inequalities (Gorman et al., 2003).

About the Data

Most public transportation trips are by bus (APTA, 2013). Other modes of public transportation systems also include light rail, subways, ferries, and paratransit vehicles. Operational strategies vary from one public transportation service to another. Routes and frequency of service are unique to each service. Vehicle types, operating characteristics, and the travel needs of the riding public also vary from service to service.

Moving Forward

Since 1995, public transportation ridership has grown by nearly 3 billion trips — a 40% increase in less than 20 years (APTA, 2013). Reasons for this increase include continued investment in public transportation and renewed interest in living in walkable communities. Although continued research is needed to determine the effectiveness of policies to promote public transportation use, including expansion of existing public transportation systems and service improvement (Carlson, and Howard, 2010).

CDC notes that “expanding the availability of, safety for, and access to a variety of transportation options and integrating health-enhancing choices into transportation policy has the potential to save lives by preventing chronic diseases, reducing and preventing motor-vehicle-related injury and deaths, improving environmental health, while stimulating economic development, and ensuring access for all people” (CDC, 2010).


American Public Transit Association. Public Transportation Fact Book; 2013.

American Public Transportation Association. The benefits of public transportation: the route to better personal health; 2002.

American Public Transportation Association. Public transportation: benefits for the 21st century; 2007.

Besser LM, Dannenberg AL. Walking to Public Transit: Steps to Help Meet Physical Activity Recommendations. American Journal of Preventive Medicine;2005:29:273-80. *

Carlson D, Howard Z. Impacts of VMT Reduction Strategies on Selected Areas and Groups. Washington State Department of Transportation; 2010. *

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Transportation Recommendations; 2010.

Federal Transit Administration, National Transit Database.

Gorman D, Douglas MJ, Conway L, Noble P, Hanlon P. Transport policy and health inequalities: a health impact assessment of Edinburgh’s transport policy. Public Health; 2003:117(1):15-24.

National Safety Council. Injury Facts. 2005 – 2006 edition. Itasca (IL): National Safety Council, 2006.

Rodríguez DA, Khattak AJ, Evenson KR. Can New Urbanism Encourage Physical Activity?: Comparing a New Urbanist Neighborhood with Conventional Suburbs. Journal of the American Planning Association; 2006:72(1):43–54.

Saelens BE, Moudon AV, Kang B, Hurvitz PM, Zhou C. Relation between higher physical activity and public transit use. American Journal of Public Health; 2014:104(5):854–9 10.

U. S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics. 2015 Pocket Guide to Transportation.

* Indicates research that supports policies analyzed

† Indicates research that supports equity or vulnerable populations studied