Clean Transport

Published on March 15th, 2012 | by Silvio Marcacci


US Public Transportation Trips Topped 10.4 Billion in 2011

March 15th, 2012 by  


American use of public transportation reached 10.4 billion trips in 2011, the second highest annual ridership amount since 1957, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

This figure represents a 2.3 percent increase over 2010 ridership, and was the sixth year in a row that more than 10 billion trips were taken on public transportation systems in the United States.

Rising Gas Prices and Economy a Factor

An improving economy and rising gasoline prices drove the increase in ridership, according to the APTA. “Since nearly 60 percent of trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes, it’s not surprising to see ridership increase where the economy has improved,” said Michael Melaniphy, APTA president and CEO. Indeed, vehicle miles of travel declined by 1.2 percent in 2011.

Surprisingly, the jump in public transit ridership was not confined to big cities with existing subway or bus systems. Ridership increases were seen in all-sized communities, and the largest rate of growth was in rural communities with populations under 100,000. In those areas, public transit use grew 5.4 percent.

Riding the Rails

Rail travel seems to be the biggest winner in 2011. Light rail ridership, including streetcars and trolleys, increased 4.9 percent, with both the King County, Washington (37.2 percent) and Dallas, Texas (31.2 percent) systems leading the way.

Heavy rail ridership, meaning subways and elevated trains, increased 3.3 percent, with Cleveland, Ohio (12.3 percent) and San Juan, Puerto Rico (12 percent) in the lead. Commuter rail ridership, meaning traditional trains, increased 2.5 percent, with Austin, Texas jumping an incredible 169 percent due to a new rail line extension. Nashville, Tennessee also saw a notable increase of 33 percent.

Even More to Come?

While the number of Americans ditching their cars for public transportation keeps climbing, we may be on the verge of a massive shift. A recent Gallup Poll found that gas prices of $5.30 would be the tipping point that forces most Americans to make significant changes in the way they live their lives.

That figure may seem inconceivable to most people, but with four states already in the $4-per gallon club and the national average hovering over $3.80 per gallon, it looks like public transit ridership will continue to climb through 2012.

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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.

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  • Rachel G

    How do these trends correspond with the growing population? I think it is great that public transportation use has increased, however it is important to consider the stress a growing population places on public transportation. Will it be affordable for cities to update their outdated public transport methods?

  • Mattpeffly

    So while it would never fly in DC today. If we raised the gas tax enought to cover the hole in the highway fund, most people would switch their “driving” habits.

    Note even if you don’t want new highways, this tax need to go up so existing bridges can be fixed; or we have to start closing a lot of roads. Side benifit of raising thiss tax is we then need less new roads.

    • Yep, remember learning about this crisis in grad school for city planning… 5-7 years ago. Only getting worse. Unfort., the U.S. public has a hard time putting 2 & 2 together (especially with the help of lying, superficial Congresspeople)

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