The number of US public transit riders took a dip at the beginning of 2015 according to the American Public Transportation Association. Approximately 5.3 billion trips were taken on public transportation during the first 6 months of last year — a decrease of roughly 50 million as opposed to 2014.
Certain public transit systems actually recorded their highest ridership in history, including Capital District Transportation Authority (Albany, NY); Caltrain (San Carlos, CA), EMBARK (Oklahoma City, OK); Metro Transit (Minneapolis, MN); Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (Greensboro, NC); and Sound Transit (Seattle, WA).
As gas prices began to drop early last year, decreasing to a $2.56 a gallon average over the first 6 months of 2015, APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy said, “With a significant drop in gas prices, some people may have returned to driving, but still, most people continued their trips on public transportation. Considering the cost of owning and maintaining a car, public transit still offers a great way to save money.”
As accurate as his statements are, bus riders decreased during the first half of 2015 by a significant 2.9% nationwide. Light rail ridership also saw a decrease by 0.4%. Heavy rail and commuter rail systems increased 0.5% and 0.3%, respectively.
Some interesting exceptions did occur. Light rail riders increased by 113.6% in Minneapolis, Minnesota, due to a new line that opened in mid 2014. Commuter rail riders increased by a whopping 208.7% in Orlando, Florida, due in part to new service starting in May of 2014. Bus ridership, despite seeing the greatest decrease nationwide, was on the rise in certain metro areas of greater than a million occupants such as San Diego (CA), Pittsburgh (PA), Atlanta (GA), and Baltimore (MD).
Certainly, public transportation saves money, contributes to a healthier physical state, and helps save the environment, but it also is essential to combating unemployment. “Public transportation services offer individuals access to jobs,” said Melaniphy. “Since nearly 60 percent of trips are taken on public transportation for work commutes, public transit ridership often increases when employment goes up.”
There is a clear correlation between job growth and ridership increases. For example, in Seattle, Washington, 49,000 jobs were added and in the same time period the local Sound Transit saw a record 6.7% increase.