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US Use of Public Transportation Highest in 50 Years

12 March 2008

Americans took 10.3 billion trips on public transportation in 2007, the highest level in 50 years, representing a 2.1% increase over the previous year, according to data released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

Public transportation use is up 32% since 1995, a figure that is more than double the growth rate of the population (15%) and up substantially over the growth rate for the vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on US highways (24%) for that same period.

Light rail (modern streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys) had the highest percentage of ridership increase among all modes, with a 6.1% increase in 2007.  Light rail systems showed double digit increases in the following areas: New Orleans (128.6%); Denver (66.2 %); Saint Louis (27.0%); Philadelphia (26.2%); Kenosha (18.5 %); the state of New Jersey (14.7%); and Memphis (11.3%).

Commuter rail posted the second largest ridership increase at 5.5%.  The five commuter rail systems with the double digit ridership growth rate in 2007 were located in the following areas: Nashville (257.9%); Santa Fe (96.6%); Harrisburg (41.3%); Seattle (27.4%); Oakland (14.2%); Dallas/Fort Worth (12.1%); Stockton (11.9%); Portland, ME (11.8%); and Pompano Beach, FL (10.3%).

Heavy rail (subways) ridership increased by 3.1%.  The heavy rail systems with double digit increases in ridership for 2007 were in the following cities: San Juan (13.2 %) and Atlanta (10.1%).

Bus service saw an increase of 1.0%, but in communities with a population of less than 100,000, bus services saw an increase of 6.4% in 2007.  Major increases by large bus agencies occurred in the following cities: Seattle (7.5%); Denver (7.0%); and Minneapolis (5.4%).

In 2004, the latest year for which the data is available, all modes of public transit accounted for 49 billion passenger miles; total vehicle miles travelled in the US is around 3 trillion per year.

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Great news. Public transportation is a great service that is typically overlooked. Without it congestion would limit the effectiveness of urban centers to produce profit and in urbanized settings it is one of the most cost effective way to get around.

I wonder... how much of the increase is from more use of existing transit, and how much of the increase is from newly built transit? Of course, it's not that simple if a person uses new and pre-existing transit in the same trip, but it's still worth thinking about.

Are transit systems gaining a higher density of ridership, or are their gains from expanding in to "virgin" territory? The answer to this question might help decide just where are the best place to put federal transit dollars.

Also it seems they only look at absolute numbers...

The population of the US is the highest it has ever been in the past 50 years too...so what is the relative percentage of adults using Public Transport (as a percentage of the adult population versus the last 50 years).

@stomv
I have lived in st louis and currently live in denver. I can say that st louis hasn't had a light rail for very long and neither has denver. I don't remember exactly when the "metro-link" in stl was completed but it was sometime around '95 and i think the first phase of the light rail here in denver was completed around that same time too. A recent expansion line opened last year. denver has plans (due to a recent vote) to add over 100 more miles of light rail over the next 10-15yrs.

Patrick

the increase from 2007 over 2006 was 2.1%. I don't know the % population increase over the same period but I think it's unlikely that the US, as a developed country, would have a population increase of more than 2% in a year, so it seems growth in public transport trips is outstripping population growth. It would be interesting this figure to compare with the growth in trips by car over the same period.

The percentage using public transport is not that useful because people taking the train once a year get lumped in with those using PT for all trips. I think public transport trips as a percentage of all motorised trips is more useful.

Cities that have just completed building programs are obviously going to have massive initial year on year increases. It's encouraging that in the heartland of the car there are so many new public transport systems being constructed.

fyi, wikipedia says growth rate is estimated at 1% in the united states.

Patrick & critta...It states in the article: since 1995, public transit has increased 32%, while the pop. has increased 15%. Not your 50 year period, but probably more meaningful.

Seattle with its 7.5% bus transit increase...at rushhour, the same route numbered huge articulated buses pour thru downtown every 4(?) minutes. If buses weren't running, Seattle would shrivel up in traffic jams. Its been curling up around the edges for years.

The U.S. has lots of suburbs that have little or no mass transit. Even if you wanted to use what is there, it would take hours to go somewhere that would take 20 minutes by car.

litesong,

Just wait until the Alaskan way viaduct comes down...I'm glad I live & work on the Eastside. Some of my coworkers cross 520 from Seattle and it is just a brutal commute for them. Too bad they killed the transit measure though, I was looking forward to light rail from Seattle to Overlake. Hopefully they won't screw up the chance to turn the BNSF corridor into a commuter line for the Snohomish county people who drive into Bellevue/Redmond.

Wow, gas prices go up, pushing folks into public transport. Whoda thunkit?!

Now the question is, why couldn't we have had legislation that would have put a tax on gasoline for mandatory insurance and to offset defense spending on maintaining access to middle-eastern oil? Set at, say, a minimum price of $4/gal back when it was $1.50? Then we would have reduced gas use and kept the money at home instead of lining some arab's robes or Exxon's pockets?

Hi Patrick...On October 24, 2007 we talked about Seattle's transit problem stuck between 2 bodies of water & decades of NO votes on transit plans since 1970 in the article about 13 Hybrids being tested in Seattle. In 1970 after Seattle turned down lots of federal dollars for a transit program, Portland inherited Seattle's position & developed a tidy transit system.

Yes, with nearly 4 decades of NO votes to transit issues, & Alaska Way ready to fall down & 520 degrading, Seattle is vulnerable to a moderate earthquake or mountain eruption which could plummet Seattle v. deep into economic chaos. Our governor Christine Gregoire is trying to jump start political activity in Seattle to little avail.

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