NYC Bus Riders Tend To Be Older and Poorer than Subway Riders

If you ride the subway, bus or train every day, you’re surrounded by others. But just what do you know about your fellow transit riders?

Turns out, the MTA was wondering this too. Starting in 2007 and continuing through 2014, the MTA undertook surveys of Metro-North customers (2007), New York City residents (2008, for NYCT) and Long Island Rail Road customers (2012-2014 – results forthcoming). The surveys shed some light on the demographics of the region’s transit riders, including why they’re using it and where they’re going.

The New York City survey was conducted from May through November 2008 and covers all respondents’ travels “for a 24-hour period, regardless of what mode was used.” The MTA’s results provide data for over 16,000 residents and more than 13,000 households. While it’s true that the survey is a little less than six years old, unlike more recent data available through the Census or American Community Survey (as well as related Census Transportation Planning Products, which use Census and ACS data), the MTA’s survey is especially useful in that it includes all travel, not just travel for work.

Examining the household income of City residents who ride NYCT buses and subways shows that while median household income for subway-only riders ($58,300) was not too much higher than the New York City median household income ($51,116 in 2008). However, the median household income for bus-only riders—$39,600—was considerably lower than the median New York City household income. More than half of respondents who rode the subway and bus or just the bus in the past day had household incomes under $50,000.

 Median Household Income

NYC Subway only Subway & Bus Bus only All Transit Modes
$51,116 $58,300 $46,300 $39,600 $52,042

Household Income distribution by Mode (weekdays)

Subway only Subway & Bus Bus only All Transit Modes
Under $50 K 43% 55% 60% 48%

The striking differences in median household incomes, as well as the fact that over half of subway and bus or bus-only riders had a household income of under $50,000, highlights the importance of bus service improvements for low-and-moderate-income New Yorkers. New York City’s roll-out of Select Bus Service is a great first step, but a full bus rapid transit (BRT) system focused on connecting low-and moderate-income communities to jobs, education and other opportunities is also necessary.

Bus riders also tend to be older, on average, than subway riders. The survey found that the median age for those who rode only buses was 49, while subway-only riders’ median age was 41. (In 2008, the median age for all New York City residents was 36.6 years.) Twenty-seven percent of transit riders who used only buses were between 55 and 64, compared to 16 and 19 percent for those who rode only subways or a combination of subways and buses in the same age range. One more reason for accessible bus stops and curb ramps in neighborhoods with high bus ridership.

Age Distribution by Mode (Weekdays)

Age range Subway only Subway & Bus Bus only All Transit Modes
25-54 71% 65% 51% 66%
55-64 16% 19% 27% 19%
25-64 87% 84% 78% 85%
Median age 41 42 49 43

All charts adapted from the MTA’s NYMTC presentation.

Stay tuned for more TSTC examination of the Metro-North findings and the forth-coming LIRR findings.

3 Comments on "NYC Bus Riders Tend To Be Older and Poorer than Subway Riders"

  1. What this shows is that subways are nicer than buses. Accordingly, areas with subways attract richer people, while the poorer people are stuck where there are only buses.

    This isn’t a surprise at all. Improving the buses — with enforced bus lanes everywhere so they didn’t get stuck in traffic, such as SBS should have — would certainly help, but eventually you’re going to have to extend the subways.

  2. Bus riders are too poor to buy cars.

  3. Clark Morris | April 14, 2014 at 9:49 pm |

    What are the origin-destination pairs for the bus riders? Is bus really more cost effective than light rail? Having ridden the Cleveland Health Line, the Eugene Max BRT, the Harbor Freeway line in Los Angeles and the Pittsburgh Busway lines, I believe that rail done right can do far more. Possibly New York also should explore the possibility of zone fares so that shorter trips are cheaper.

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