USA Today dutifully reports an American Public Transit Association press release (reprinted below). But Wendell Cox provides the context. He says it's all hype. And Im shocked.
More Mass Hype
The US transit public relations machine is at it again, this time claiming significant ridership increases from 2005 to 2006. Finally, they have restored the 1957 level of ridership. By comparison, in 2006, car use was more than any year in history. In fact, since 1957, commuting by car has doubled. Transit says that ridership increased nearly three percent. In fact, annual increases have averaged nearly as much for 10 years, yet transit's share of urban travel has fallen nearly 20 percent during the period. Why? Because, even in an era of unprecedented gasoline prices, urban car use has grown more rapidly. People leaving their cars for transit makes good press. It just isn't true.
Here's the press coverage:
Riders crowd public transit systems
By Barbara Hagenbaugh, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Ridership on public transportation jumped to the highest level in nearly five decades in 2006 as high gas prices and expanded bus and train service enticed people to park their cars.
More than 10 billion trips were taken on buses and rail lines last year, the American Public Transportation Association says in a report to be released Monday.
That's up 2.9% from 2005 and the highest level since 1957. Ridership rose three consecutive years through 2006 and increased 28% in the 10 years since 1996.
The rise in 2006 came as gasoline prices increased, coming within pennies of the all-time record, not adjusted for inflation, reached following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. "Certainly, a lot of the growth last year was with the high gas prices," APTA President William Millar says.
But Millar says a number of other factors, such as increased road congestion and improved transit service, were also likely in play. Ridership was up 4% in the fourth quarter from the same period a year earlier, even though gas prices had fallen from their earlier peaks, APTA says.
Kim Little, 51, of Tulsa started taking the bus to work in May. While she expected it to be a temporary solution to higher gas prices, she has stuck with the bus.
"I just love it, I absolutely love it," says Little, who works in human resources for the city of Tulsa.
Not only is she saving gas money, but taking the bus for her 13-mile trip to work has cut commuting stress. Plus, she's made some new friends: "I've met some great people on the bus. That's been a fun, unexpected benefit."
The increase in ridership has put some strains on local transit systems. Around the USA, systems say they are trying to find ways to reduce crowding:
•Salt Lake City. The number of trips taken on Salt Lake City's light rail rose 14% in 2006 to a record. The rising demand led the Utah Transit Authority to buy 29 used rail cars from San Jose, Calif. Officials haven't had time even to paint the new cars that have gone into service. Instead, they plastered stickers over the old labeling to get the cars on the rails as soon as possible.
"They're not pretty," spokesman Justin Jones says. But "it's a ride and people don't mind."
•Washington. Ridership on Metrorail in the nation's capital rose 5.3% to a record in the 2006 fiscal year, which ended June 30. The transit system is buying new cars to meet passenger demand.
•San Francisco. The number of trips on the Bay Area Rapid Transit train system also rose to a record last year. BART also has been increasing the number of cars, lengthening trains in the system.
•Tulsa. Ridership rose 17% on local buses and 43% on park-and-ride bus service last year. Tulsa Transit has added a bus on one route and is considering adding a commuter rail line, spokeswoman Cynthia Staab says.