More People Riding Mass Transit Underscores a Cultural Shift

A Salt Lake City TRAX train rolls down the line in this photo, which has been reversed. Photo: Flickr/VXLR

A Salt Lake City TRAX train rolls down the line in this photo, which has been reversed. Photo: VXLR/Flickr

Americans are using public transit more than ever, according to a study that further proves people are increasingly comfortable riding buses and trains.

According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transit last year, matching a ridership record set in 2008. The association has attributed the ridership gains to new infrastructure and a recovering economy, singling out cities that opened transit lines in recent years for ridership increases.

“Community leaders know that public transportation investment drives community growth and economic revitalization,” said association president Michael Melaniphy. “Another reason behind the ridership increases is the economic recovery in certain areas.”

Indeed, nearly 60 percent of trips taken on transit are work commutes. It’s true that employment rates, gas prices and expanded access affect ridership in the short term. But in the long term, increased public transit ridership is a trend that’s been ongoing for nearly two decades. Overall, ridership is up 37.2 percent since 1995—more than population growth.

Meanwhile, Americans are driving less: Vehicle miles traveled per capita have fallen since 2004. Car ownership is increasingly expensive, and congestion makes it less attractive to drive in an urban environment.

It appears that, slowly but surely, Americans are embracing the idea that railway tracks can take them the same places highways do and transit stops can exist alongside parking garages.

Perhaps the biggest sign of a cultural shift is that transit ridership isn’t just growing in cities like New York and Washington, D.C., where taking a subway or bus has long been faster and more convenient than driving on many routes.

For instance, APTA calls out Cleveland, Ohio; Anchorage, Alaska; and Lewisville, Texas for major ridership gains. Small cities with populations below 100,000 saw bus ridership increase 3.8 percent. The association specifically mentioned Salt Lake City, where the new FrontRunner commuter rail service helped increase ridership across the region. But city officials are debuting a new pass to try and get even more people on board.

“We hope to sell thousands of passes,” Salt Lake City spokesman Art Raymond told the Salt Lake Tribune. “Part of the underlying impetus here is to create new transit users.”

Written by Lewis Shaw

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