All Aboard! Public Transportation Use Surges

public transportation light rail

Charlotte is one of several cities served by light rail.

A year-over-year 1.1 percent increase in public transportation use may not seem like much, but when it rises by 37.2 percent as it has over the past 18 years, then that’s a point worth noting. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has found that Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation in 2013, for the highest transit ridership in 57 years. Moreover, the rise in public transportation trips outstripped the 0.3 increase in vehicle miles driven.

*** ReferenceAmerican Public Transportation Association: Record 10.7 Billion Trips Taken On U.S. Public Transportation In 2013***

Public Transportation Ridership

Record public transportation travel has been felt across the nation with cities such as New York, New Orleans, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Salt Lake City seeing all-time ridership demand across the board or at least on specific lines. A number of smaller cities have experienced record demand too including Yuma, Ariz., Fort Myers, Fla., San Carlos, Calif., and Espanalo, N.M.

“Last year people took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation. As the highest annual ridership number since 1956, Americans in growing numbers want to have more public transit services in their communities,” said Peter Varga, APTA Chair and CEO of The Rapid in Grand Rapids, MI. “Public transportation systems nationwide – in small, medium, and large communities – saw ridership increases. Some reported all-time high ridership numbers.”

Population Growth and Transit

Public ridership is also outpacing America’s population growth. From 1995 to 2013, the country’s population increased by 20.3 percent with vehicle miles traveled up 22.7 percent.

The 37.2 percent increase in public transportation ridership far outpaces the national population growth and driving miles.

Public Transit Options

Public transportation is composed of a number of parts including heavy rail, light rail and commuter rail. Bus systems include both scheduled and paratransit routes, the latter not following fixed routes or schedules. Paratransit service includes minibuses and shared taxis.

*** ReferencePutnam County, New York: What is Paratransit?***

Heavy rail includes subways and elevated trains, with ridership increasing by 2.8 percent in 2013. Miami was one of eight systems that experienced growth in 2013, with ridership rising by 10.6 percent.

Light rail includes streetcars and trolleys, with ridership rising by 1.7 percent in 2013. New Orleans, Denver and San Diego were three cities that experienced double-digit growth.

Commuter rail services ridership increased by 2.1 percent in 2013, led by Salt Lake City up by 103.3 percent. Austin; Harrisburg-Philadelphia; Anchorage, Alaska;, and Minneapolis were among the cities that experienced double-digit growth last year.

*** ReferenceDaily Herald: Report: commuter rail ridership in Utah increasing***

Bus ridership increased by 3.8 percent in cities with populations under 100,000, with an overall decline of 0.1 in 2013. Yet, large bus systems such as those operating in Washington, DC; Seattle; Houston; and Cincinnati, experienced modest increases for the year.

New Transportation Bill

APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy notes that there is a “fundamental shift” in the way that people get around and that shift follows citizen demand for improved services. “People in record numbers are demanding more public transit services and communities are benefiting with strong economic growth,” said Melaniphy.

Melaniphy is also urging Congress to pass a new transportation bill noting that investing in public transportation “drives community growth and economic revitalization.” Taxpayer investment leads to increases in ridership in areas where economic recovery is strongest, with nearly 60 percent of those rides for work commutes.

Lynx Charlotte

Recently, this writer observed Lynx Charlotte, a light rail system that cuts through Uptown Charlotte. The Queen City’s system is similar to New York’s subway system and is currently composed of a single Blue Line. The North Carolina city intends to add more lines to serve other areas of the city and to relieve passenger vehicle congestion.

Photo courtesy of Lynx Charlotte.

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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