Whenever I’m forced to drive my car instead of hopping on the D.C. Metro system, I’m reminded of the great ad campaign telling commuters “you are not stuck in traffic, you are traffic.” Apparently, I’m not the only one feeling like public transportation is the way to go.
Americans took a record 10.7 billion rides on public transportation in 2013, according to the latest annual report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), the highest transit ridership level in 57 years.
This remarkable stat is made even more interesting by the fact that vehicle miles traveled climbed in 2013 while gasoline prices stayed relatively low – indicating people are choosing public transit without the cudgel of prohibitive gas prices pushing them out of their cars.
Public Transit Trips Outpace Vehicle Miles Traveled
2013 was the eighth year in a row Americans took more than 10 billion trips on public transportation nationwide, narrowly edging out the 10.5 billion public transit trips taken in 2012 and the 10.4 billion public transit trips taken in 2011.
Last year’s record of 10.7 billion trips was a 1.1% annual increase over 2012, outpacing the 0.3% rise in vehicle miles traveled on roads over the same period. Since 1995, public transit ridership has increased 37.2%, outpacing population growth (20.3%) and increases in vehicle miles traveled (22.7%).
But perhaps most interesting, public transit’s ridership record was set as gasoline prices hovered around the $4 per gallon mark for most of the year, a marked difference from the previous record of 10.59 billion rides taken in 2008 when gas prices were around $5 per gallon.
One contributing factor may be American reliance on public transit for work commutes. Nearly 60% of public transit trips are for work commutes, according to APTA, meaning as the economy rebounds so do public transit trips.
“Americans in growing numbers want to have more public transit services in their communities,” said Peter Varga, APTA Chair. “Public transportation systems nationwide – in small, medium, and large communities – saw ridership increases and some reported all-time high ridership numbers.”
Trips Increase On All Public Transit Modes
Interesting trends are also apparent within the different forms of public transportation, led by heavy rail (subways and elevated trains), which increased 2.8% across the country. Miami led the charge with a 10.6% increase, due mostly to additional trains running during peak service times.
Commuter rail ridership also increased 2.1% nationally, with 20 out of 28 transit systems reporting increase. Salt Lake City had the largest increase at 103.3% due to a new rail line opening, but Austin led all systems without new lines at 37.3%
Light rail (streetcars and trolleys) ridership nudged up 1.6%, with 17 of 27 transit systems reporting increases, led by New Orleans with 28.9%. Bus ridership remained stable nationally, but increased a notable 3.8% in cities with populations below 100,000.
“There is a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities,” said Michael Melaniphy, APTA President and CEO. “Community leaders know that public transportation investment drives community growth and economic revitalization.”
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