Mass Transit

Mass transit in the United States includes buses, bus rapid transit, trolleys, rail, and ferries. Transit buses are particularly well-suited for alternative fuels, and over 40% run on these cleaner, cost-saving options. Mass transit vehicles are generally more efficient than private vehicles because mass transit vehicles carry more passengers and, as a result, achieve a higher passenger-mile per gallon.

Ridership indicates the strength and success of mass transit. Higher ridership reduces vehicle miles traveled and fuel used by private vehicles. Vehicle fleet managers, corporate decision makers, and public transportation planners can use the following strategies to build strong ridership.

Passenger-Miles per Gallon

Passenger-miles per gallon (pmpg) is a metric for comparing mass transit and rideshare with typical passenger vehicle travel. Transportation system efficiency increases as the number of passengers increases or as the vehicle fuel economy increases for each transportation mode.

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*All fuel converted to gallons of gasoline on an energy content basis. For trains, most of this fuel is electricity.


Effective mass transit is more convenient when people find it predictable. Mass transit providers can make their services more predictable by publicizing and sticking to schedules. Updating schedules often and providing them in mobile applications such as Google Maps and other formats riders can access easily also increases predictability. Some mass transit providers use geotracking systems such as NextBus to help riders track schedules and delays. Mass transit providers can also make their services more convenient by helping passengers link multiple transportation modes. Some mass transit stations offer bicycle storage so travelers can transfer transportation modes easily.


Employee passes and transit subsidies are effective incentives for fleet managers and corporate decision makers to build mass transit ridership, conserve fuel, and reduce vehicle miles traveled. Employers with mass transit incentives can gain recognition for environmentally beneficial practices and may save money by reducing transportation and parking costs. Employer compensation for transit may have tax benefits. Learn more about such commuting benefits from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.


In some areas, buses and trains have a reputation of being dirty and dangerous. A switch to cleaner alternative fuel or hybrid electric vehicles may alleviate this reputation and also make riders feel good about mass transit. Clean, well-lit vehicles and signage are more attractive to riders. Safety practices and cleanliness standards are helpful ways to increase mass transit reputation and ridership. Offering Wi-Fi is a way that many transit agencies have shifted perception of buses towards a high-tech, professional means of commuting. Advertisement campaigns have also proved effective at improving public transit reputation and therefore increasing ridership.


Many potential riders are not familiar enough with available public transit services to choose mass transit over other transportation modes. Advertising and promotional events can help raise awareness and increase ridership. For example, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation's Try Transit Week challenges people to experience the benefits of mass transit.

More Information

Find more information and resources on mass transit from the American Public Transportation Association and the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration.

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