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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Volatile gas prices drive Americans to ride trains, buses, study says


Record numbers of Americans will use public transportation to save money in response to volatile gas prices, according to a new study by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and Building America’s Future (BAF).

During a news media conference call yesterday, APTA officials and BAF Co-Chairman and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell cited the study while calling on Congress to pass a long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill that ensures public transit systems will have the necessary resources to meet the demand for services.

The study analyzed historical trends and independent research to predict the impact gas prices would continue having on transit ridership nationwide. The analysis showed that, on average, U.S. public transportation systems will collectively add about 200 million new trips this year — even as gas prices fluctuate by as much as 50 cents per gallon.

APTA and BAF officials also noted that commuters initially are drawn to transit when gas prices spike, but continue to ride transit even after gas prices drop.

“Whether it is by bus or train, millions of Americans rely on public transportation every day and mobility in our nation’s most populated areas depend on effective transportation options,” said Rendell in a prepared statement.

Therefore, it’s crucial for Congress to provide adequate funding to transit systems so that they can serve an increasing ridership. Many U.S. transit agencies have reported record ridership in recent months and their systems are reaching capacity as a result, said Michael Melaniphy, APTA president and chief executive officer.

“Americans are looking for alternatives to driving,” Melaniphy said.

In response to a reporter’s question, Rendell said he doesn’t believe Congress will pass a five- or six-year surface transportation reauthorization bill this year.

“The best we can hope for” is that Congress will pass legislation to fund transportation programs into 2013 and that the bill will “do no harm” to public transit agencies’ funding. Then, in 2013, Congress and the president should come to grips with the problems facing the country’s entire infrastructure: transportation, waterways, dams and electrical grid systems, Rendell said.

“We need a 10-year, long-term infrastructure revitalization program,” he said. “It’s not a question of whether we can afford it. We’ve got to do it and bite the bullet.”

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 5/16/2012