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The National Transportation Adaptation Strategy

Project Introduction

The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated challenges that the transit industry was already facing, both in terms of ridership and financing, while also presenting new, unprecedented challenges. Ridership is the key metric for any public transit organization. National transit ridership was already falling well before the COVID-19 pandemic. As Bloomberg CityLab noted in Jan 2020: “since 2014, low gas prices, aging infrastructure, and the rise of Uber and Lyft have led to spiraling [declines in] ridership on public transit systems from coast to coast.” From 2014, when transit use in California had barely recovered from the effects of the Great Recession, to 2018, the most recent year of available data, the state lost more than 165 million annual boarding’s — a drop of over 11%, nearly double the rest of the nation.

With public transit ridership - and subsequent revenues - declining, the transit industry must identify ways to restore both trust and ridership as it turns its focus from pandemic response to economic recovery. Work and travel patterns have shifted, some permanently, and as SFMTA and other transit agencies nationwide look to the future of transportation, they will need to consider a range of factors affecting transportation ridership and trust. Now is the time to anticipate the future of public transit. The transit industry must find new and improved ways to drive ridership and revenues back up and act now for the long-term renewal of infrastructure and the promise of public service.

The SFMTA was awarded a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) national competitive grant to develop a National Transit Adaptation Strategy. The Agency, with its partners at Institute for the Future (IFTF), Clear Channel Outdoor, and Intersection, will develop a National Transit Adaptation Strategy (NTAS) that provides a set of tools, listed below, to support the public transportation industry’s adaptation through and beyond the pandemic. The primary objective for this project is the development of tools and data-supported initiatives that any U.S. transit agency may implement to rebuild confidence in public transportation and quickly drive-up ridership.

The National Transit Adaptation Strategy deliverables include:

  • Futures report that realistically identifies what the future will bring to set a path toward the most probable future scenario
  • Ridership profiles and personas that provide the industry with key market segments to manage their systems to, and thereby support operational efficiency
  • Specific marketing campaigns and messaging, all of which can be replicated and targeted to a particular rider persona and the future scenario anticipated by a transit system
  • Ridership model for transit agencies to model potential ridership scenarios based on potential futures


Project Timeline 
Future Forecasts
11/2021 - 02/2023
11/2021 - 06/2023
Communications Campaigns
06/2023 - 09/2023
Ridership Models
06/2023 - 12/2023
12/2023 - 03/24
Contact Information
Jonathan Rewers