March 16, 2009
10.7 Billion Trips Taken on Public Transit in 2008 Marks 52-Year High
The last time North Americans took as many rides on public transportation as they did in 2008, Dwight Eisenhower was running for his second term as president; Around the World in 80 Days won the Academy Award for Best Picture; My Fair Lady opened on Broadway; and Congress gave approval for the Interstate Highway System.
The total U.S. ridership on public transportation during 2008, 10.7 billion rides, is the highest in 52 years, APTA President William W. Millar announced at the March 9 Opening General Session of the APTA Legislative Conference in Washington. These figures remained high despite falling gas prices and an economic recession: the total for the fourth quarter of the year was 1.7 percent above the same quarter in 2007.
“For all of 2008, we saw total U.S. ridership for all modes increase more than 4 percent over 2007! Which was a record over 2006, which was a record over 2005, etc.,” Millar said. “High gas prices got people onto public transit; they decided they liked saving money and stress, so they’ve stuck with it, and even more continue to get on board…Many Americans tried transit to beat the high cost of gas and stayed because it met their needs.”
The 4 percent total increase in U.S. transit ridership comes at the same time as a 3.6 percent decrease in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) reported by U.S. DOT.
Public transportation use has expanded by 38 percent since 1995, a figure almost triple the growth rate of the population (14 percent) and substantially higher than the growth rate for VMT on the nation’s highways (21 percent) for the same period.
For the second year in a row, all modes of public transportation saw increases in every quarter. Light rail (modern streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys) showed the highest percentage of annual ridership increase among all modes, with 8.3 percent, followed by almost 5 percent for commuter rail; 3.5 percent for heavy rail; and almost 4 percent for all bus agencies.
The LYNX Blue Line in Charlotte, NC, which opened in November 2007, led the light rail sector with an annual increase of 862 percent. Ridership on the streetcars in New Orleans, which have been returning to service gradually since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, rose 218 percent in 2008. Other light rail systems reporting double-digit increases include Buffalo (23.9 percent); Philadelphia (23.3 percent); Sacramento (14.4 percent); Baltimore (13.7 percent); Minneapolis (12.3 percent); Salt Lake City (12.3 percent); the state of New Jersey (10.9 percent); Denver (10.5 percent); and Dallas (10.2 percent).
Commuter rail ridership increased in 2008 by 4.7 percent. The highest levels of growth occurred in Albuquerque (35.1 percent); Portland, ME (26.5 percent); Seattle (23.8 percent); Pompano Beach, FL (22.9 percent); Harrisburg-Philadelphia (17.7 percent); New Haven (17.5 percent); Oakland (16.1 percent); Stockton, CA (14.7 percent); Dallas-Fort Worth (14.1 percent); and San Carlos, CA (12.5 percent).
Heavy rail (subway) saw a 3.5 percent increase in 2008, with these cities showing the largest growth: San Juan, PR (13.3 percent); Lindenwold, NJ (9.9 percent); Atlanta (8.6 percent); Miami (8.2 percent); Boston (7.9 percent); and Los Angeles (7.7 percent).
Bus service saw an overall increase of 3.9 percent for the year, but the figure for communities with a population of less than 100,000 was 9.3 percent. Major increases by large bus agencies occurred in the following cities: Phoenix (11.5 percent); San Antonio (10.2 percent); San Diego (10.0 percent); St. Louis (8.9 percent); Baltimore (8.7 percent); and Denver (8.6 percent).
The complete APTA ridership report is available online. Information on public transportation’s role in climate change and energy independence can be found here.