American public transit use climbs, vehicle miles driven retreats

NewOrleansHUDRedStreetcarRiverfrontCanal[1]Ridership on American public transportation in 2012 reaches a level not experienced in years: 10.5 billion trips, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Wow!

So, what’s driving increased public transit usage?

More people returning to work thus pointing to a recovering economy in some locations plus “volatile gas prices,” are two huge reasons behind the higher number of transit trips made, as indicated in the APTA release.

At the same time road-mileage stats are tumbling.

“A variety of factors have been cited for the decline, including retiring Baby Boomers; less enthusiasm for cars among Millennials; a move in many places toward more compact and mixed-use development; and demand-side policy efforts, including TDM [Traffic Demand Management], tolling and market-pricing of parking,” the State Smart Transportation Initiative notes. “In addition, some trends that fueled VMT [vehicle miles traveled] growth in the last century have eased: The transition toward women working outside the home is essentially complete, car-ownership has gone from rare to common, and people’s time budgets for car travel may have reached their maximum.”

Moreover, the 10.5 billion trips taken, “the second highest ridership since 1957,” bests 2011 figures by 154 million, reports the APTA. “This was the seventh year in a row that more than 10 billion trips were taken on public transportation systems nationwide.”

Keeping it in perspective

Americans are collectively driving 3 trillion miles a year using an estimated 250 million motor vehicles. What I also know is roughly two percent of all automated land-based trips are taken on public transit. Added to this, I think it would indeed be helpful in knowing what the percentage growth in both bus passenger-miles and passenger train passenger-miles is.

Those are what they are, obviously. What really matters most, in my view, is performance or efficiency of mode type, and with this information, a more meaningful land-transportation-performance or efficiency story is told.

In addition, another relevant parameter is trip time.

According to one analysis, Americans in motor vehicles in 2011 were delayed 5.5 billion hours resulting in 2.9 billion gallons of fuel being wasted at a congestion cost of $121 billion.

In keeping things in context, what then is the corresponding yearly delay associated with bus and train riding? Likewise, what are the corresponding yearly congestion costs, if there are any, associated with train and bus riding? Per given mile traveled, if delay and congestion costs are significantly lower for the train and bus rider compared to the motor vehicle occupant – be they driver or passenger – it might be way more cost effective all around to be a transit rider and if that’s the case, it might therefore make way more sense in calling for greater promotion and funding of public transit.

Doing additional research to find answers to these questions if not presenting the findings in a follow-up report just might be in order.

The beauty of riding public transit

One thing is for certain, more public transit trips plus fewer vehicle miles logged equals air quality improvement.

– Alan Kandel

Leave a Comment