- Tom Silva
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Rising Gas Prices Send Americans to Mass Transit
American public transportation ridership rose 2.3 percent last year as gas prices rose to their highest-ever annual average, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). The 10.4 billion trips recorded last year was the highest since 2008, when gas prices hit more than $4 a gallon nationwide for seven weeks in the summer.
APTA said economic recovery, that sees more Americans commuting to and from work, added to ridership. Approximately 60 percent of commutes are for work. Greater use of smart-phone apps, which “demystify” schedules for riders, also boosted ridership, the APTA said. Increases in public transportation were reported in communities of all sizes and among light rail, subway, commuter train and bus services, the APTA said. The largest increase — 5.4 percent — occurred in rural communities with populations of less than 100,000, said Michael Melaniphy, APTA’s president and chief executive.
Spending on public transport totals in the region of $50 billion a year, Melaniphy said. Funding for public transportation is split nearly 50/50 between federal dollars from the gas tax, money from state and local property and sales taxes, and ridership fees.
In Boston, where unemployment has fallen two percent since the beginning of 2010, ridership rose four percent last year to an average of 1.3 million passenger trips a day on weekdays, said Joe Pesaturo, of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
Because of the recession, transit agencies were forced to operate more efficiently and better care for existing systems and equipment, said Robert Puentes, senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. That has resulted in better service.
In terms of specific modes of transit, light rail (including streetcars and trolleys) led with a 4.9 percent increase. This was followed by heavy rail (subways and elevated trains) at 3.3 percent; commuter rail at 2.5 percent; and large bus systems at 0.4 percent.
It’s ironic that these increases occurred despite the fact that transit agencies have had to increase fares and decrease service because of budget cuts, according to Melaniphy. “Can you imagine what ridership growth would have been like if they hadn’t had to do those fare increases and service cuts?”