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Public Transit Ridership Surges as Gas Prices Decline PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marjorie Holt   
Sunday, January 18 2009

Public Transit Ridership Surges as Gas Prices Decline

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) announced today that Americans continue to ride public transportation at record levels even though gas prices declined. More than 2.8 billion trips were taken on public transportation in the third quarter of 2008 -- an increase of 6.5 percent over the third quarter of 2007. This is the largest quarterly increase in public transportation ridership in 25 years. Meanwhile, vehicle miles of travel (VMT) on the nation’s highways declined in the same period by 4.6 percent according to the Federal Highway Administration.

“The record increase in public transportation trips demonstrates the exceptional value of public transportation in today’s economy,” said APTA President William W. Millar. “The fact that public transit ridership surged while gas prices and highway travel declined, shows a growing demand for more bus and rail services.”

Last year 10.3 billion trips were taken on U.S. public transportation – the highest number of trips taken in fifty years. In the first quarter of 2008, public transportation continued to climb and rose by 3.4 percent. In the second quarter of 2008, as gas prices rose to more than $4 for a gallon of gasoline, public transit ridership increased by 5.2 percent. The third quarter transit ridership increase of 6.5 percent continued the trend of more and more Americans turning to public transportation in record numbers.

In congratulating President-Elect Barack Obama on his recent announcement for a major economic stimulus package that includes transportation infrastructure investment, Millar said, “Investing in public transit can quickly create hundreds of thousands of “green” jobs for Americans and help get our economy back on track. In addition, increased public transit use reduces our dependence on foreign oil and lowers our nation’s carbon footprint.

“To sum it up, public transportation is good for the economy, good for the environment, and good for energy independence,” concluded Millar.

Light rail (modern streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys) had the highest percentage of ridership increase among all modes, with an 8.5 percent increase for the third quarter. Light rail systems showed double digit increases in the following areas: Baltimore (19.6%); Minneapolis (18.3%); Sacramento (16.5%); New Jersey (15.9%); Los Angeles (15.3%); Dallas (15.2%); Denver (15%); Buffalo (13.4%); and Memphis (13.3%).

Bus ridership posted the second largest ridership increase at 7.2 percent. Bus travel in all size communities saw ridership increases; communities with a population of less than 100,000 had an 11.6 percent increase. The highest increases at the largest bus agencies occurred in the following cities: Orange County, CA (23.9%); Phoenix (15.2%); San Diego (14.4%); St. Louis (15%); Atlanta (13.8%); Portland (11.8%); Seattle (11.5%); Denver (11.5%); Baltimore (11%); and Chicago (10.1%).

Commuter rail ridership grew by 6.3 percent. The commuter rail systems with double digit ridership growth were located in the following areas: Albuquerque (35.8%); Pompano Beach, FL (32.9%); New Haven (32.2%); Portland, ME (29.6%); Oakland (26.1%); Stockton, CA (22.5%); Seattle (22.4%); Harrisburg/Philadelphia (21.7%); Dallas (18.8%); Los Angeles (17%); and San Carlos, CA (16.4%).

Heavy rail (subways and elevated trains) ridership increased by 5.2 percent. The heavy rail systems with the highest increases in ridership for the 2008 third quarter were in the following cities: Los Angeles (14.1%); San Juan (13.5%); Lindenwold, NJ (13.3%); Miami (12.2%); and Atlanta (11.3%).

To see the complete APTA ridership report go to

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APTA is a nonprofit international association of 1,500 member organizations including public transportation systems; planning, design, construction and finance firms; product and service providers; academic institutions; and state associations and departments of transportation. APTA members serve the public interest by providing safe, efficient and economical public transportation services and products. APTA members serve more than 90 percent of persons using public transportation in the United States and Canada.


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