Nationally, nearly 2.6 billion trips were taken on public transportation in the first quarter of 2009, according to a report released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Even with significant declines in gasoline prices, higher unemployment, a general economic downturn, and lower state and local revenue, public transportation use in the first quarter is essentially flat – almost matching last year’s modern record first quarter ridership –declining by only 1.2 percent. This 1.2 percent decline is less than the decline of vehicle miles traveled on our nation’s roads, which declined by 1.7 percent (representing 11.6 billion vehicle miles), according to the U.S. Department of Transportation during the same period.
“Public transportation ridership remains strong and has exceeded expectations, despite cheaper gas prices in the first quarter and a faltering job market,” said APTA President William Millar, who noted that almost 60% of trips are work-related commuter trips. “This year’s first quarter ridership continues to show strong public demand for public transportation and how essential it is for millions of Americans.”
A June, 2009 APTA report titled, Challenge of State and Local Funding Constraints on Transit Systems: Effects on Service, Fares, Employment and Ridership, indicates that among public transit systems facing decreased local, regional and/or state funding, nine in ten systems either raised fares or reduced service in the past year.
“Since local and state revenue for public transit is declining due to the poor economy, many public transportation systems are being forced to raise fares or cut service at a time when public demand is the greatest since the 1950s,” said Millar. “Raising fares and cutting service drives people away from using public transit and is counterproductive, as America struggles to create jobs, cut greenhouse gases, and reduce our reliance on expensive foreign oil.”
APTA called on Congress to include public transit as a solution in the climate change legislation. The current House version of the climate change legislation, titled American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), does not include public transportation. The Senate has not yet proposed a climate change bill.
“U.S. public transportation is part of the solution for reducing greenhouse gases, saving 37 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually,” said Millar. “As part of the solution for reducing our nation’s carbon footprint, a portion of revenue received from cap and trade should be allocated to public transportation for operating expenses.
“Imagine how much more public transportation could do to reduce greenhouse gases if public transit systems do not have to reduce service or increase fares,” said Millar. “Including public transportation in the proposed climate change legislation is a no-brainer.”
2009 First Quarter Ridership Breakdown
Eighteen out twenty-nine light rail systems (modern streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys) reported an increase in ridership for the first quarter of 2009. Overall, light rail increased by 1.8 percent in the first quarter of 2009. Light rail systems in four cities saw double digit increases in the first quarter: Tampa, FL (40.5%), Baltimore, MD (24.4%), New Orleans, LA (18.0%), and Seattle, WA (16.8%).
Seven out of 15 heavy rail systems (subways and elevated trains) experienced ridership increases in the first three months of 2009 over the same period in 2008 though in total heavy rail ridership decreased by 1.8 percent across the country. The heavy rail systems with the top five highest increases in ridership for 2008 were in the following cities: San Juan, PR (14.1%), Los Angeles, CA (6.4%), Philadelphia, PA (5.4%), Washington, DC (4.5%), and Chicago, IL (4.4%).
Twelve out of 24 commuter rail systems reported ridership increasing. Nationally, commuter rail ridership declined by 3.0 percent in the first quarter of 2009. The top five cities with the highest commuter rail increases were: Albuquerque, NM (220.9 % - due to a new commuter rail system), New Haven, CT (12.6%), Dallas-Fort Worth, TX (11.0%), Boston, MA (5.4%), and Pompano Beach, FL (5.0 %).
Thirteen out of 30 large bus systems reported ridership increases, but overall bus use decreased 1.2% nationally. The large bus systems with the highest increases for the first quarter of 2009 occurred in the following cities: San Diego, CA (5.3%), Phoenix, AZ (5.2%), Oakland, CA (4.9%), Detroit, MI (4.4%), and Baltimore, MD (4.3%).
Demand response (paratransit) increased in the first quarter of 2009 by 3.8 percent.
To see the complete APTA ridership report click here.
For more information on public transportation’s role in climate change, go to: