APTA | Passenger Transport
December 15, 2008

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Public Transit Ridership Surges in Third Quarter of 2008

Americans set public transportation ridership records in the third quarter of 2008, according to just-released APTA statistics. From July through September, despite the plummeting price of gas, riders took more than 2.8 billion trips: an increase of 6.5 percent, the largest quarterly increase in public transportation ridership in 25 years.  In the same time frame, according to the Federal Highway Administration, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on the nation’s highways declined by 4.6 percent. This marks the 11th consecutive month of decreased VMT.

“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, people took 10.3 billion trips on U.S. public transportation, the highest number in 50 years. In the first quarter of 2008, public transportation ridership rose by 3.4 percent. In the second quarter of the year, as gas prices skyrocketed to more than $4 a gallon, public transit ridership went up again, by 5.2 percent. This third-quarter increase continues the trend of more and more Americans turning to public transportation.

Calling for an economic stimulus package that includes federal public transportation investment, Millar said, “Investing in public transit will quickly create tens of thousands of American jobs and help get our economy back on track. In addition, increased public transit use reduces our dependence on foreign oil and lessens carbon emissions. To sum it up, public transportation is good for the economy, the environment, and for energy independence,” he said.

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

Overall bus ridership posted the second largest ridership increase for the quarter, 7.2 percent. Bus travel in all community sizes saw ridership increases; communities with a population of less than 100,000 had an 11.6 percent increase. The highest increases among the largest bus agencies occurred in Orange County, CA, 23.9 percent; Phoenix, 15.2 percent; St. Louis, 15 percent; San Diego, 14.4 percent; Atlanta, 13.8 percent; Portland, OR, 11.8 percent; Seattle, 11.5 percent; Denver, 11.5 percent; Baltimore, 11 percent; and Chicago, 10.1 percent.

Commuter rail ridership grew by 6.3 percent. The commuter rail systems with double-digit ridership growth were Albuquerque, 35.8 percent; Pompano Beach, FL, 32.9 percent; New Haven, 32.2 percent; Portland, ME, 29.6 percent; Oakland, CA, 26.1 percent; Stockton, CA, 22.5 percent; Seattle, 22.4 percent; Harrisburg, PA, 21.7 percent; Dallas, 18.8 percent; Los Angeles, 17 percent; and San Carlos, CA, 16.4 percent.

Ridership on heavy rail (subways and elevated trains) increased by 5.2 percent. The heavy rail systems with the highest increases in ridership for the 2008 third quarter were Los Angeles, 14.1 percent; San Juan, PR, 13.5 percent; Lindenwold, NJ, 13.3 percent; Miami, 12.1 percent; and Atlanta, 11.3 percent.

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