Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Public Transit Ridership Is The New Black

MTA bus

Some good news finally on the public transit front, as this Washington Post article makes crystal clear in its headline: "Public Transit Ridership Rises To Highest Level in 52 Years". 10.4 billion transit trips, according to a survey by the American Public Transportation Association! 52 years! Take that cars and trucks!

It's definitely a bit of a surprise, since the cost of a gallon of a gas is so low right now ($1.61 at year's end). What makes the stats so impressive is that a lot of the gains came in unexpected places, like Salt Lake City, Dallas and towns with less than 100,000 people. Perhaps there was a fundamental shift during those months of high gas prices, as people realized that commuting via transit saves money and means you don't have to spend hours stuck in your tiny car which is stuck in traffic? As the article says:

"People who were used to driving did the math and figured they could buy a monthly pass [$50] for less than a tank of gas," said Morgan Lyons, a spokesman for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit. As gasoline prices fell, other benefits became more apparent, he said. Instead of traffic-clogged drives that could take up to an hour, riders could be on the train for 35 to 40 minutes and do work or relax. "When you have to start making decisions about all the little things, other little things become equally important," he said.

Where do we go from here? As the article makes clear, the transit agencies need to show that they are using the first stimulus funds to create jobs and better the system for riders. Knowing the level of disrepair for most systems and the number of projects already on to-do lists, this should not be too difficult. Beyond that, this news couldn't have come at a better time, as there's some major legislative pieces coming up that could bring in much more funding for public transit around the country. There's lots of talk about a second stimulus bill coming up, as (not surprisingly) the first one was too paltry and focused too much on tax cuts. Now, big cities, transit authorities, mayors, industry people and citizens can come to the table with real proof that transit is a viable option for providing jobs and making life more affordable for the average citizen. There's also the upcoming federal transportation bill, which comes up every 6 years and allocates billions of dollars for transportation projects around the country. Now is a good time to contact your senators and representatives and stress the importance of public transit for yourself. I also recommend signing the petition that Transportation for America has written, a call for a 21st transit system and major investment in such a system in the federal transportation bill.

Let's keep up the good news!

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