Public transportation ridership reaches record levels
While high gas prices can be a detriment to local government budgets, they are proving beneficial to public transportation ridership. The number of trips on public transportation topped 10.4 billion in 2011, the second highest figure in 54 years and a 2.3 percent increase over 2010, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
An improving economy — consequently more Americans commuting to work — also contributed to the spike in transit ridership, APTA says. And technology is making public transit more convenient.
“Transit operators and authorities are becoming much more innovative and making it easier for people to ride public transit,” says John Robert Smith, president and CEO of Washington-based Reconnecting America. Efforts include smart cards to pay fares, intelligent bus stop signs and phone apps.
In Boston, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) average weekday ridership was nearly 1.3 million last year, its highest figure ever. This February marked MBTA’s 13th consecutive month of ridership increase, up 8.1 percent compared to February 2011. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District saw a 5.6 percent uptick in 2011, and Dallas Area Rapid Transit reported a 31 percent surge.
The story is similar in many large cities, yet the largest ridership increase was in bus use in communities with populations less than 100,000. “You think of people in cities having access to public transportation and being willing to use it,” says Rosemary Sheridan, vice president for APTA. “But commutes are usually longer in rural areas. We are seeing services increasing there and accommodating demand.”
Some cities, however, experienced a decrease, including a 3 percent drop for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and the New Jersey Transit Corp. with a 0.3 percent drop. Sheridan says many of the declines were because of fare increases and service cuts caused by tight budgets.
Jennifer Grzeskowiak is a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based freelance writer.