Despite the unemployment rate heading toward 10 percent, a general economic downturn, lower gas prices, and lower state and local revenue, public transportation use in the first half dipped slightly by only 2.6 percent. Nationally, nearly 5.2 billion trips were taken on public transportation in the first six months of 2009, according to a report released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Light rail, trolleybus and the demand response public transit modes saw increases in ridership.
“The severe downturn in the economy has finally caught up with public transportation ridership, yet it still defies expectations,” said APTA President William Millar. “Ridership remains strong, and it withstood the downturn longer than many expected. Given that 59 percent of rides on public transportation are taken to commute to and from work, it is no surprise that job losses have affected ridership.”
The latest transit figures reflect several trends affecting the larger economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job losses accelerated throughout the first half of 2009, reaching 9.4 percent. This is more than double the unemployment rate at approximately the same time two years ago.
Other factors contributing to the ridership decline are the service cuts and fare increases many public transit systems have been forced to make because of flat and reduced state and local budgets. Among those systems facing revenue declines, almost half of them (47 percent) reported both raising fares and cutting service to address funding shortfalls, according to a recent APTA report.
“With state and local revenues declining due to the recession, public transit systems are facing severe financial challenges, and America’s riders are paying the price,” 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.”
2009 First Half of Year Ridership Breakdown – Light Rail Shows Increase
By mode, the year–to-date ridership changes were as follows: light rail (modern streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys) reported an increase in ridership for the first half of 2009. Overall, light rail increased by +.57 percent. Other modes that show an increase include trolleybus (+1.61 percent) and demand response (+2.25 percent). Modes that saw declines were heavy rail (-2.29 percent); commuter rail (-2.79 percent); bus (-3.34 percent); and other modes (-0.55).
Transit systems in Pennsylvania showed a trend of increased ridership, likely owing some success to the recent passage of Act 44, which brought $300 million for public transit in the state for FY 2007 and at a rate of $500 million in Fiscal Year 2009 and 250 million annually thereafter. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s heavy rail service saw an 8.49 percent increase in ridership, a 32.2 percent increase for light rail, a 14 percent increase for commuter rail, a 100-percent increase for trolleybus, and 47.3 percent increase for bus. In the Pittsburgh region, Port Authority of Allegheny County reported a 12 percent ridership increase in its inclined-plane ridership, along with small increases in its light rail and bus trips. Monroe County Transportation Authority in Scotrun enjoyed an increase of 3.7 percent in its bus ridership, and Centre Area Transportation Authority in State College saw a boost of 5.4 percent for bus and 44.6 for vanpool ridership.
There were ridership increases in other areas of the nation as well. For heavy rail, Los Angeles County MTA saw a 6.4 percent ridership jump. Memphis’s Area Transit Authority’s light rail ridership rose 10.6 percent. As a completely new system, New Mexico’s new Rail Runner Express commuter rail between Albuquerque and Santa Fe enjoyed an increase of 100 percent. Valley Regional Transit in Boise, ID, reported a 17.5 percent rise in bus ridership. Connecticut DOT Commuter rail saw its ridership up just over 10 percent. And in the Midwest, the Milwaukee County Transit System showed a jump of 51.9 percent in its vanpool ridership.