Study: Weather reports affect public transportation

Sep 1, 2020, 7:02 AM
A new study finds that reports of bad weather and air actually decrease ridership on the UTA....
Inversion along the Wasatch Front on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. (Scott G Winterton Deseret News)
(Scott G Winterton Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Is there a correlation between weather reports and how much we use public transportation?  New research from a team at the University of Utah seems to suggest it. And the takeaway is, when forecasters predict bad weather and air, people take buses and trains less. 

Daniel Mendoza, assistant researcher professor with both the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning, along with others, looked at how media coverage of the weather and air quality jibbed with transit ridership.  From 2014-2016, they studied 40 Utah media outlets for reports with particular words related to weather or air quality. Words like “cloudy” “freezing” or “summer”, and “red air day” ozone” or “particulate matter.”  


“What we found is that mentions of good weather [doesn’t affect ridership much.]  However, the use of keywords such as ‘rain,’ ‘cold,’ or snow,’ particularly in the winter, would decrease ridership,”  Mendoza said emphasizing though that isn’t true of all public transportation trips though.

For example, Frontrunner is primarily used for commuting on longer trips which is what Mendoza’s team calls “mandatory” trips. He says those who use Frontrunner don’t waver much in any kind of weather or air quality.   

Trips by bus and Trax are a different story though.  They are used for what Mendoza calls “flexible” trips and he says when there is a media report of a bad weather people were less likely to ride. Some of that he says may have to do with many bus stops being uncovered.

“Although they’ve added some in recent years, still most bus stops don’t have a weather shelter,” he says, adding that one has to get to a Trax station somehow, either by walking or another bus.  

Mendoza says bad air days are a little harder to unpack.  Inversions are normal byproducts of stretches of cold in the dead of winter.  Granted, there wouldn’t be any rain or snow, but cold weather still counts as bad weather.  So, when hen forecasters mention “a heavy particulate matter day,” do people bail on waiting outside for a bus or Trax train because of crummy air, or the cold?


Mendoza isn’t sure how to “dis-entangle” that question but says there are some solutions to attack both ends.  To increase ridership during purely bad weather he suggests more shelters at bus stops.

“I think an increase of these shelters make people more comfortable and feel safer,” he reasoned. 

As far as bad air, Mendoza says too often we try to work on lessening the impact of our driving pollution when there is already the problem, smack dab in the middle of an inversion.  He says a bill passed last year is part of a solution.  The bill mandate giving out free fares on Trax before poor air quality days, before the inversion builds.  

Mendoza asks the larger question. “We know the media has this potential negative impact on ridership… how can we have the media increase ridership?”

Today’s Top Stories


QAnon Utah race...
The Associated Press

Utah’s GOP Congressmen defeat primary challengers

Utah's four GOP congressmen win primary elections, move on to November's general election.
1 day ago
Two people were injured in a two-vehicle crash Tuesday morning in Brigham City....
Mark Jones

Two people injured in Brigham City two-vehicle crash

Brigham City emergency personnel responded to a two-vehicle crash Tuesday morning that sent two people to the hospital.
1 day ago
FILE - Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, addresses a crowd during a rally on April 25, 2014, in Sandy, Utah. T...
The Associated Press

Sen. Mike Lee fends off 2 opponents to win Utah GOP primary

Utah Sen. Mike Lee claimed a victory Tuesday night in the state's primary election, defeating two challengers.
1 day ago
Gov. Spencer Cox announced Utah Court of Appeals Judge Jill M. Pohlman is his nominee to serve on t...
Mark Jones

Gov. Cox announces Utah Supreme Court nominee

Utah Court of Appeals Judge Jill M. Pohlman is Gov. Spencer Cox's Utah Supreme Court nominee as announced Tuesday.
1 day ago
Remaining permits for elk and deer hunts this fall will be available to purchase in July....
Mark Jones

Remaining deer, elk permits can be purchased in July

Remaining deer and elk permits for hunts this fall will be available to purchase in July.
1 day ago
A crowd gathers in front of the Utah State Capitol on Friday, June 24, 2022, to protest the U.S. Su...
Becky Bruce

Different abortion law now in effect in Utah

A different abortion law is now in effect in Utah, and it bans abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy. However, there are several exceptions to this law.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
Follow @ikeyospe...

Tax Tuesday: The Most Common Mistakes People Make When Filing Their Taxes

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
Follow @ikeyospe...

Tax Tuesday: How will last year’s child tax credits affect you?

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
Study: Weather reports affect public transportation