||Public Transportation Use Up Across the Nation in 2011
Fueled partly by rising gas prices, public transportation ridership across the USA increased by 2.31% in 2011 over the previous year, the American Public Transportation Association reports.
Americans last year took 235 million more trips on buses, trains and subways than in 2010. That's the most ridership since 2008, when gas prices soared to a national average of $4.11 a gallon in July.
Also driving ridership: an improving economy. Greater use came despite more than eight out of 10 transit systems either cutting service, increasing fares or both in recent years, says Michael Melaniphy, the association's president and CEO. "Can you imagine what ridership growth would have been like if they hadn't had to do those fare increases and service cuts?"
Ridership grew in 2011 as the year progressed, gas prices rose and the economy improved. Passenger trips rose by 1.6% in the first half of the year, by 2% in the third quarter and by 3.7% in the last three months.
In Boston, where unemployment was down 2 percentage points since the beginning of 2010 and the economy added 64,000 jobs, ridership was up 4% last year to an average of 1.3 million passenger trips a day on weekdays, says Joe Pesaturo, of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
Other factors driving Boston's rise: improved vehicle maintenance and better on-time performance on some routes. As in many cities, transit riders in Boston last year also had broader access to arrival and departure times via new smartphone applications.
"That people can look in the palm of their hand to see when the next bus or train is going to be arriving makes it a more attractive option," Pesaturo says.
An upside to recessionary times is transit agencies were forced to operate more efficiently and better care for existing systems and equipment, says Robert Puentes, senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, a think tank. And that, he says, has resulted in better service.
Having arrival information available on smartphones also helps. "One of the big problems with transit, especially buses, has been the lack of reliability," Puentes says. "No one wants to be standing waiting on a bus with no idea when it's coming."
Increased ridership was seen across the USA, the transportation association found.
"It's not just an urban thing," Melaniphy says. "When you look at small, rural parts of the country, cities under 100,000, the ridership increase was 5.4%, basically double the national average."
Intercity Transit in Olympia, Wash., for instance, saw its highest use in its 31-year history. Last year, there were 17,000 passenger trips a day, spokeswoman Meg Kester says. "More and more people are turning to transit as a transportation solution, not only in terms of travel to school and jobs, but also a solution for people's pocketbooks," she says.
(Source: USA Today, 03/12/12)