Use of public transit is surging across the country


Passengers board a bus headed for Queens in New York  on Oct. 31, 2012. (Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg)

Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transit last year, the highest number in more than five decades, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

The surge in ridership was seen on all types of transit options around the country, APTA reports: There were ridership spikes on commuter rail lines in Austin (up 37.3 percent), Anchorage (30 percent) and Minneapolis (12.5 percent); hefty increases for light rail in New Orleans (28.9 percent), Denver (14.9 percent) and San Diego (10.4 percent); upticks for subway systems and elevated trains in Miami (10.6 percent), Los Angeles (4.8 percent) and Cleveland (2.9 percent); and growth on bus systems in Washington, D.C. (3.5 percent), Houston (3.4 percent) and Cincinnati (3.4 percent).

Overall, last year had the highest ridership since 1956 and was the eighth consecutive year that at least 10 billion trips were taken on public transportation, APTA reported.

This increase also comes at a moment when the car’s ubiquity and necessity appears to be weakening. The percentage of households without a vehicle has increased every year since 2008, reaching 9.2 percent in 2012, a researcher at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute found. While the overall miles traveled per vehicle slightly inched up from 2012 to 2013, the per-capita miles traveled declined for the ninth consecutive year.

“There is a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities,” Michael Melaniphy, president and chief executive of APTA, said in a statement.

This follows a change in where people live. The suburbs grew faster than urban areas in every decade between the 1920s and the 2000s, a pattern fueled by the mass adoption of the car. That changed in this decade, as cities saw growth that outpaced the surrounding suburbs and young workers flocked to walkable, transit-centric areas.

These young people are a key part of the increase in transit use. Between 2001 and 2009, the average number of miles driven by people ages 16 to 34 dropped by 23 percent, a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Frontier Group said. During the same period, people in this age group increased their miles traveled on public transit by 40 percent.

And this trend was even more pronounced among people in this age group who could afford to buy a car, according to the report: People ages 16 to 34 who lived in households making more than $70,000 a year increased their transit use by 100 percent, their biking by 122 percent and their walking by 37 percent.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.

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