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US Public Transit Ridership in 2008 At Highest Level in 52 years; 10.7B Trips

9 March 2009

Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation in 2008, the highest level of ridership in 52 years and a modern ridership record, according to a report released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

This represents a 4.0% increase over the number of trips taken in 2007 on public transportation, while at the same time, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) declined by 3.6% in 2008, according to the US Department of Transportation.

Public transportation use is up 38% percent since 1995, a figure that is almost triple the growth rate of the population (14%) and up substantially over the growth rate for the vehicle miles traveled (VMT) (21%) for that same period.

For the second year in a row, ridership on all modes of public transportation increased in every quarter. Light rail (modern streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys) had the highest percentage of annual ridership increase among all modes, with an 8.3% increase in 2008.

The light rail system that started in November 2007 in Charlotte, NC showed the highest percentage of increase with an annual 862% increase. The New Orleans, LA light rail system, which is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, had an annual increase of 218%. Light rail systems with double digit ridership in 2008 were located in the following areas: Buffalo (23.9%); Philadelphia (23.3 %); Sacramento (14.4%); Baltimore (13.7%); Minneapolis (12.3%); Salt Lake City (12.3%); the state of New Jersey (10.9%); Denver (10.5%); and Dallas (10.2%).

Commuter rail increased in 2008 by 4.7%. The commuter rail systems with the double digit ridership growth rate in 2008 were located in the following areas: Albuquerque (35.1%); Portland, ME (26.5%); Seattle (23.8%); Pompano Beach, FL (22.9%); Harrisburg-Philadelphia (17.7%); New Haven (17.5%); Oakland (16.1%); Stockton, CA (14.7%); Dallas-Fort Worth (14.1%); San Carlos, CA (12.5%).

Heavy rail (subways) ridership increased by 3.5% in 2008. The heavy rail systems with the highest increases in ridership for 2008 were in the following cities: San Juan (13.3%); Lindenwold, NJ (9.9%); Atlanta (8.6%); Miami (8.2%), Boston (7.9%), and Los Angeles (7.7%).

Bus service saw an increase of 3.9%, but in communities with a population of less than 100,000, bus services saw an increase of 9.3% in 2008. Major increases by large bus agencies occurred in the following cities: Phoenix (11.5%); San Antonio (10.2%); San Diego (10.0%); St. Louis (8.9%); Baltimore (8.7%); and Denver (8.6%).

Demand response (paratransit) increased in 2008 by 5.9%.

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This is SO wonderful. We are becoming more like Cuba and Russia every day!!! The ultimate in living...

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Right on Goracle. Sitting in traffic in a V8 Suburban next to a few thousand others doing the same is surely much more appealing than riding public transit with people who, OMG!, may be of a different race, religion or social status than you. Try France as your model instead of Cuba or the Soviet Union. Affluent, native French people regularly ride public transit and, although the country has its flaws, it is certainly not about to implode like the Soviet Union did. Why do they do this? Because it is safe, clean, usually faster than driving and always cheaper.

When this many people vote with their seat, it's the thing to do.

public transit is always slower (frequent stops for load/unload, low top speed (20-30 mph). inconvenient (15-60 minute wait times, never goes where you go), is more expensive (needs a minimum of 7-8 people on bus for every mile the buss travels in a day to match the energy use of 1 person in a 30 mpg car. if a bus wastes an hour of your day, it cost you about 50$ or however much you value your time. you can buy a lot of motorcycle at 50$/day)

I drive off peak so I almost never sit in traffic in my 30 mpg vw golf.

if you look at the costs, buying all riders electric cars is cheaper, more energy efficient, takes advantage of existing infrastructure and does less damage to the landscape than any mass transit. best of all is that e-cars can be put in place now, not 10 years from now.

CM, what are you smoking? Get real! I'd like to see some numbers. You don't have them because they don't exist. And if they did, they would prove the opposite. I drive a 30MPG VW too and also drive off-peak, but if you drive on-peak, public transit is often faster and cheaper, esp if you include parking your car in a major metro area. If everybody drove an electric car, traffic would be even worse than it is now. Sure, they don't pollute, but that is not the only reason to not drive. Either get some numbers to back up your BS or shut up!

okay Peter here is one model. If you live 5 miles from the train station i.e. Lowell Massachusetts and surrounding towns, it's a 30 Minute Drive but there isn't enough parking. So you need to find a parking space near a bus stop which makes your transit time to the train stop a minimum of one hour. If you are going into Boston, it's another hour on the train. Time between trains during rush hour (1.5 hour hour window. is 30 minutes, otherwise, it's one hour. Transit time from a train station via subway to most business destinations in Cambridge or Boston is approximately 30 minutes to 45 minutes not including waiting time. So, at best, you have a two hour commute in either direction or four hours per day. If you drive, the same commute takes 40 minutes to one hour.

when I worked in Cambridge, I tried to take the train. I had to get up and be at the train station by seven o'clock in order to make it to work by nine which meant the roads were completely empty and I could get to work in 40 minutes and leave one or two hours early.

A bus typically gets 3.5 to 4.5 miles per gallon. I estimate their speed to be somewhere around 15 mph between city traffic and all of the stops they make. You need seven people on that bus to get roughly 30 person miles per gallon. One car, one passenger at 30 miles per gallon has the same energy efficiency.

as a simple model, let's assume that three hours of the workday, the bus is full (50 people). For six hours of the day (between rush-hour etc.) the bus has about 10 people. If the bus runs around the clock, as it would if it was a personal transportation substitute, it would probably spend something like seven hours out of 24 empty.

24*15 360 miles / 4 mpg = 90 gallons According to the model, we have 210 passenger miles or one half gallon per passenger per mile average. Obviously you can tweak the passenger load profile but consider what tweaking means. The only way to increase average passenger load reduce the number of hours the bus runs which increases pressure for people to use cars as an alternative, increase average population density which can lead to system overload at peak transit times which increases pressure to use a car instead.

cheaper is more than the price of transit. My time is worth between $50 and $100 per hour depending on what project I'm working on. if someone wants to buy more of my time in the day, the price goes up because I get tired and I want to have a life. So, choosing public transit is selling that time for nothing. It could literally cost me as much as $100-$200 per day because I can't use that time to work for customer (no connectivity, no privacy, or have confidential data that must remain encrypted in public places). transit time is a dead loss for me so I want to make that as short as possible.

independent of my time value there is the basic cost of infrastructure. If you look at how much it costs to lay in a subway, or any other form of rail-based transit, it could be cheaper to heavily subsidize electric cars. If you look at Brad Templeton's article on robot cars, you'll find that light rail has roughly the same per-person efficiency as a 50 mile per gallon car. Electric cars will start clocking in at 100 to 300 miles per gallon equivalent. Cheaper, faster transit, faster to deploy, and better because it opens up opportunities that rail and public transit denies you.

If you want to make public transport viable as an alternative to a car, I believe you'll need to make door-to-door transportation time 25 to 50% faster than an automobile. It must accommodate the current suburban landscape because I don't see anybody paying me to give up my house and give me grub stake to live in city spaces. last, this transit system must fund itself entirely out of fares.

you do have a point on congestion. city life is unbearable enough as is that congestion wouldn't make it all that much worse. I cannot tell you the number of times my wife has had her ass grabbed by perverts on the subway. I've had my pocket picked. I've had people try to take things out of my laptop case while I was holding the damn thing. I couldn't have caught more colds if I had spent a couple of hours in a day care center. I would gladly pay a premium to escape living that life.

I cannot emphasize enough that you should take a look at Brad Templeton's website on robot cars. He does the calculations quite nicely and you might build a move them around a little bit but I think he's pretty much on the mark. Also, look in the archives of Green car Congress. Search for Chinese electric bicycles and public transit. In that article it shows how using a $400 electric bicycle instead of taking public transit, you can save enough money to pay off that bike in one year. everywhere I look I see the evidence that personal transportation is a win for individuals with regards to the jobs, grocery shopping, education, and medical treatment. Artificially restricting choice to public transit will reduce people's quality of life and scope of experience in the world.

Mass transit in large cities isn't a bad option. A well developed highway system is also good. Having said that... DC metro has a $125 Million budget shortfall and is considering cutting back on service. Trains are already crowded to capacity during rush hour. Thinking back to the last time I was driving to work in my car with heated leather seats and Bose sound system.. I think I would definitely prefer sitting in traffic to being pressed up next to a homeless teenager trying to steal my wallet while attempting to make it on the train at Metro Center before the doors close and crush my arm.

An advantage of public transit is that you can read there (if you are sitting), so you're not wasting time.
For people who read anything (except at work) it's something.
I noticed especially high percentage of people reading on subway in Paris and Boston.

Country mouse,

Your $400 electric bicycle will be slower than the bus and much more likely to have you in an accident.

Commuting between Bellevue and Seattle (WA) by bus takes roughly just as much time as by car if you are driving by yourself with a few rare exceptions where you work in an area far from the major transit lines. Buses can use the car pool/express lanes while a solo driver cannot. On these "prime" transit times you see just as many VPs, attorneys, and other professionals as you do fast food workers, janitors, and low paid workers [few "bums" at these times - they prefer near empty buses it seems].

Also great job on trying to take unrealistic numbers and extrapolating a near- worst case scenario completely ignoring the statistical means employed to determine transit running times based on passenger loads. I sure would not want to pay you $50-100 per hour if this is an example of the quality of your work.

I believe you just cost yourself about $20-30 with that research and follow on diatribe.

The big story is how transit systems bought rail cars and sold them to banks and leased them back. This allowed the banks to write off depreciation, but now the banks are imposing fine print in contracts and demanding 100s of millions of dollars from already strapped transit systems.

@Patrick

The $400 bicycle story was published in this blog and had a reasonably good analysis. Yes, you do stand a greater risk of being physically injured but it doesn't negate the fact that you save money over the cost of the subway. The risk is low enough that it's worth taking, at least in China. Here, people put themselves at risk by bicycles all the time and increasing numbers. In fact, some commenters here recommended people using bicycles and putting themselves at risk.

As a transit times these are all real. These are what I measured by my watch multiple times and if you look at the schedules, they aren't that far off. The train from Lowell to North Station takes an hour on the schedule. It has half hour increments a pickup during rush hour in one hour increments on stops non rush hours. You'll notice I ignored waiting time so if you include the average waiting time (half of the interval between vehicle arrivals), the transit time looks even worse. another anecdotal point. I had a friend who worked at 201 Broadway in Cambridge. Driving him from their to ayre where he had left his car at the train station typically saved him anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes depending on Cambridge traffic when we left.

I notice you've done zero research and only cast aspersions on everything I've done. I've been clear when it's a model and what are the parameters of the model. All you've provided a snarky comments.

yes, actually I cost myself closer to $50 with a time of spent here but I just have a hard time dealing with dark green fan boys who don't question the ideology and use models that can be examined and critically examined by others. I suggest becoming good at math and critical thinking because then you'll find out the green ideology is full of holes

These comments against public transportation don't make any sense at all. There are 10.7 billion rides that prove it. In these times of economic stress, ridership is going up, not down. If personal transportation was more cost effective overall, public transport increases wouldn't be happening in trying times. 10.7 billion extra car rides in the US would cause even more massive delays requiring huge amounts of cost and the increased requirements of public money for infrastructure. Having cars are not free.

Public transportation is a business like any other. They do not support low routes if at all possible so these artificial support numbers are nonsense. I've never been on a subway or bus or rt which had these low numbers. At all. Never.

A suburban to suburban scenario, with low interconnect times is also artificial in the extreme. These uban islands which have distributed services and jobs create a situation where cars almost become a necesary item. But this is a recent phenomenon and not necessarily a norm. New york city suburbs grew with the extension of the lines along the subway lines, creating their own sustainable routes. These suburban public transports run mostly at the times you expect them to run. Rush hours. You take a risk if you require the service at other times. But it is a typical opportunity cost decision, whether the occasional need weighs against the cost of buying and maintaining a vehicle. No one made anyone move to a suburban no man's land that requires a car just to buy a jug of milk.

This use of fear for public transportation is fear mongering at its worst. Wallets being stolen, whatever. In NY, Bloomburg has always taken the subway. You don't think he can't afford better?

People say their time is worth x amount of dollars? People waste huge amounts of time doing whatever they want and most of it is unproductive.

Personal transportation and todays horrible urban developement was subsidized by short sighted planning and cheap fuel creating infrastructure that really doesn't work.

It's great news that these public transportation systems which have been developed for areas that can support them, exist and were kept up against the vociferous BS claims of their detractors so that they can save society as a whole money in these trying times.


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