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‘Use of public transit in U.S. highest since 1956’

Jon Hurdle
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Commuters wait to board a New York City subway car at Grand Central Terminal during evening rush hour on Monday. — PHOTO: AFP
Commuters wait to board a New York City subway car at Grand Central Terminal during evening rush hour on Monday. — PHOTO: AFP

More Americans used buses, trains and subways in 2013 than in any year since 1956 as service improved, local economies grew and travellers increasingly sought alternatives to the automobile for trips within metropolitan areas, the American Public Transportation Association said in a report released on Monday.

The trade group said in its annual report that 10.65 billion passenger trips were taken on transit systems during the year, surpassing the post-1950s peak of 10.59 million in 2008, when gas prices rose to $4 to $5 a gallon.

The ridership in 2013, when gas prices were lower than in 2008, undermines the conventional wisdom that transit use rises when those prices exceed a certain threshold, and suggests that other forces are bolstering enthusiasm for public transportation, said Michael Melaniphy, the president of the association.

“Now gas is averaging well under $4 a gallon, the economy is coming back and people are riding transit in record numbers,” Mr. Melaniphy said in an interview. “We’re seeing a fundamental shift in how people are moving about their communities.”

From 1995 to 2013, transit ridership rose 37 per cent, well ahead of a 20 per cent growth in population and a 23 per cent increase in vehicle miles travelled, according to the association’s data.

Stronger economic growth is playing an important role in the increased use of public transit, as more people are using the systems to get to an increasing number of jobs, the association reported, and transit agencies are nurturing growth by expanding their systems or improving services.

“We’re seeing that where cities have invested in transit, their unemployment rates have dropped, and employment is going up because people can get there,” Mr. Melaniphy said.

Overall public transit ridership increased by 1.1 per cent from 2012, with the biggest gains in rail service and in bus service for smaller cities.

In New York, where use of all modes of transit in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority increased 3.6 per cent last year, according to the data, ridership has been bolstered by falling unemployment and improved service, said Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the authority.

The system is also being increasingly used during off-peak times, especially by younger people, who are encouraged by promotions like free transfers between subways and buses and by a decline in crime in the city, Mr. Ortiz said.

In Denver, the Regional Transit District topped 101 million passenger trips last year, its most ever, helped by an improving economy and an increasing acceptance that public transit is an attractive alternative to the automobile, said Scott Reed, a spokesman for the district.

One of the challenges is simply getting people to try public transportation, Mr. Reed said, but when they do, “they find it is so much easier than they had feared.”

— New York Times News Service


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