City’s Rail Ridership Projection is Highly Improbable for Honolulu

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BY HONOLULUTRAFFIC.COM – In recent discussions about whether the City will achieve its transit ridership projections (bus and rail), many are missing the main point. Transit ridership has for many years suffered a declining market share locally and nationally. Ridership increases are not keeping up with urban population growth.


For example, Honolulu bus ridership has remained flat to down since the mid-1980s despite a significant increase in population and a major increase in the number of buses in service.

For the rail project the City forecasts that O’ahu transit ridership (bus &rail) will by 2030 have increased from 6.0 percent of trips to 7.4 percent. That is an increase in market share.

However, no metro area with rail has ever increased their ridership percentage over any 20-year period even when the period included the building of its rail line.

The data showing the decline among commuters is from the journey-to-work census data for metro areas available every ten years. Check for yourself: Journey to Work Trends in the United States and its Major Metropolitan Areas, 1960-2000. FHWA.

In short, for the City to achieve its ridership projections it has to do what no other metro area has ever done — increase its market share — with one exception; between 1980-2000 San Diego transit increased its share from 3.3 to 3.4 percent.

In summary, it means that if Honolulu transit (bus and rail combined) just maintained its market share, ridership in 2030 would be 20 percent less than what is being forecast. But that would not be the prudent forecast. We should determine the average decline in market share for Mainland metro areas with rail and go with that.

According to FHWA data on the chart below we should use a decline of something like 30 percent from our current market share. It would mean that even with rail our ridership will remain approximately the same despite increased transit service levels and population.

We do understand that this is tough to believe. However, that is what is happening on the Mainland in virtually every metro area. And please don’t tell me again that Hawaii is different.

For further reading, see the Transportation Research Board’s Commuting in America III.





    • Take into consideration that when the UH at West Oahu is opened, traffic will be diverted to Kapolei instead of into town. Why? You’ll notice that traffic to town only builds up when school is in session at UH.

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