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Rail News: Passenger Rail

APTA: Annual ridership topped 10 billion for sixth consecutive year


Americans took 10.4 billion trips on public transportation modes in 2011, a 2.3 percent increase versus 2010 ridership and the second-highest annual mark since 1957, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reported today.

Only ridership in 2008, when gas prices rose to more than $4 per gallon, surpassed last year’s total, APTA officials said in a prepared statement. Last year marked the sixth consecutive year in which nationwide ridership topped 10 billion.

“What is exciting is that the uptick in ridership occurred in large, medium and small communities,” said APTA President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Melaniphy. “In fact, the largest rate of growth was in rural communities with populations under 100,000 where public transit use increased by 5.4 percent.”

Melaniphy cited higher gas prices and economic recovery in certain communities, with more people returning to work, as the two primary reasons for the ridership gains.

“Since nearly 60 percent of trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes, it’s not surprising to see ridership increase in areas where the economy has improved,” he said.

In addition, the “exponential growth” of mobile device applications to track rail and bus arrival times is “demystifying the ridership experience and attracting new customers to public transportation,” said Melaniphy.

Following is APTA’s breakdown of 2011 ridership trends by mode, which shows each rail sector posted year-over-year gains.

Light rail (modern streetcars, trolleys and heritage trolleys) ridership increased 4.9 percent. Light-rail systems that posted gains were Seattle-King County Department of Transportation, 37.2 percent; Dallas, 31.2 percent; Buffalo, N.Y., 15.6 percent; Oceanside, Calif., 14.8 percent; Salt Lake City, 14.4 percent; Seattle–Sound Transit, 11.8 percent; New Orleans, 11.3 percent; Philadelphia, 9.6 percent; San Diego, 7.3 percent; and Memphis, Tenn., 6.3 percent.

Heavy rail (subways and elevated trains) ridership rose 3.3 percent. The gainers were Cleveland, 12.3 percent; San Juan, Puerto Rico, 12 percent; Baltimore, 8.7 percent; Boston, 7.2 percent; San Francisco, 5.6 percent; Chicago, 5 percent; Miami, 4.9 percent; New York City, 4.9 percent; Philadelphia, 4.7 percent; and Lindenwold, N.J., 3.9 percent.

In addition, commuter-rail ridership ratcheted up 2.5 percent. Primarily because of a new extension that opened in December 2010, the commuter-rail service in Austin, Texas, saw ridership jump 169 percent after adding weekend service. The six commuter-rail systems that posted double-digit increases were Nashville, 33 percent; Oceanside, Calif., 21 percent; Portland, Ore., 20 percent; Alexandria, Va., 12.7 percent; Salt Lake City, 10.4 percent; and Stockton, Calif., 10.3 percent.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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