Transit use boomed from 2006-2008, but not in traditionally transit-friendly areas. This shows hope for more transit use in traditionally car-oriented places in the US in the future.
An analysis of the most recent transit use data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that transit use grew by up to 47% in major metropolitan areas in the U.S. from 2006-2008, with several metro regions in the South and West growing by more than 10%.
The South and West, being more dominated by automobile-oriented development and auto use, have historically struggled to get significant transit ridership. However, the top ten cities with the highest recent increase in ridership include several metro areas in the South and West, including Charlotte, NC (47%), Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA (26.7%), Pheonix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ (23.6%), San Antonio, TX (15.1%) and others. This seems to shine a light of hope on increased transit use in the southern and western U.S. in the future.
First, however, why are we seeing a boom in these places?
One of the main factors expected to have caused the increase in ridership in these areas was the increased price of gasoline. As gasoline prices increase, transit ridership is shown to increase in major U.S. cities. As Nate Berg reports, “Ridership increases around the country have been linked to the temporary jump in oil prices last year, when the price of oil peaked at more than $147 per barrel in July 2008.”
Although these ridership increases may drop in 2009 with the price of oil dropping, these figures still show potential ridership increases concurring with future variations in transportation costs.
Other factors which might have triggered the ridership increases in some of these places are increased or better-quality services. Charlotte, in particular, opened a new light-rail system (the first in North Carolina) and expanded its services considerably in that time. Bradley Weaver, a spokesman at the Riverside Transit Agency (which saw a transit commuting increase of 26.7%), says: “We brought service to where it was needed, and that was reflected in our ridership numbers.”
Median incomes of the riders in some of these areas (i.e. Detroit and Charlotte — the top two on the list) rose sharply in this period. This shows the possibility of transit use extending into higher income classes more. As Berg writes, in the case of this happening in the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario region: “Essentially, the number indicates that people with higher income levels became more likely to ride public transit to work.”
With increased costs of driving or better quality transit services such as light-rail in the future, we could see more people shifting over to green, clean public transit more. Even in traditionally auto-dominated places across the U.S. We could have expected it in normally transit-friendly regions, but it is nice to see the possibility in these places as well!
The top ten list for transit ridership increases from 2006-2008 is as follows:
1. Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, NC (47%)
2. Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI (30%)
3. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA (26.7%)
4. Pheonix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ (23.6%)
5. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloominton, MN-WI (21.6%)
6. Sacramento-Arden Arcade-Roseville, CA (18%)
7. St. Louis, MO (16%)
8. Denver-Aurora, CO (15.6%)
9. San Antonia, TX (15.1%)
10. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA (13.4%)
Image Credit 1: James Willamor via flickr under a Creative Commons license
Image Credit 2: wings777 via flickr under a Creative Commons license
Image Credit 3: James Willamor via flickr under a Creative Commons license