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Transit ridership is a critical determinant for many transit applications such as operation optimizations and project prioritization under performance-based funding mechanisms. As a result, the quality of ridership data is of utmost importance to both transit administrative agencies and transit operators. Many transit operators in Virginia report their ridership data to the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) and the National Transit Database (NTD). However, with no specific guidelines available to transit agencies in Virginia for collecting ridership data, the heterogeneous mixture of diverse data collection methods and technologies has often raised concerns about the consistency and quality of the reported data. This study investigated the ridership data collection practices adopted by transit agencies in Virginia and developed high-level guidelines to facilitate data collection with improved quality. Specifically, it examined the data collection practices discussed in the literature and those adopted by local transit agencies in Virginia. The research team surveyed 39 transit agencies to obtain a clear understanding of their current practices in data collection scope, technological solutions, sampling and estimation techniques, and data storage and reporting, among others. To evaluate the potential estimation errors based on sampled data, the researchers requested and obtained actual data from five transit agencies of different sizes in Virginia. Comparisons between selected data collection solutions were conducted, and the estimation errors were tested based on different sample data from these agencies. Based on the findings from literature review, surveys, and analysis of actual data, a set of high-level data collection guidelines was proposed. This study recommends that DRPT distribute the developed guidelines among transit agencies in Virginia to help facilitate improved data collection practices across Virginia. It is also recommended that DRPT require the submission of each agency’s ridership data collection methods and correction (adjustment) procedures, in addition to the agency’s reported ridership data.


Published by Virginia Transportation Research Council (VTRC) and Old Dominion University. Report No.: FHWA/VTRC 22-R22

Copyright 2022 by the Commonwealth of Virginia. All rights reserved.

Original Publication Citation

Hong, Y., Xie, K., Ishak, S., Ma, Q., & Yang, L. (2022). Development of guidelines for collecting transit ridership data (Publication No. FHWA/VTRC 22-R22). Virginia Transportation Research Council.


0000-0002-8191-2786 (Xie), 0000-0003-1180-5528 (Ma)