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In the first quarter, nearly 2.5 billion trips were taken on public transportation systems, down 2.7 percent compared with first-quarter 2009 ridership, according to a report released last month by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
However, ridership declined at a slower rate than it did during fourth-quarter 2009, when total trips fell 3.8 percent vs. fourth-quarter 2008.
"High unemployment impacts public transit use since nearly 60 percent of trips are work-related commuter trips. Additionally, public transportation service is funded by state and local revenue, both of which have declined due to the economic recession," said APTA President William Millar in a prepared statement. "But we are encouraged that light-rail service, as well as bus systems serving smaller communities, increased overall."
Ten out of 29 light-rail systems reported a ridership gain in the first quarter. Systems in Portland, Ore., Phoenix and Seattle registered double-digit increases. Overall, light-rail ridership increased 1.5 percent compared with ridership during the same period in 2009, according to APTA.
In Portland, the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) attributes its 16.7 percent jump primarily to the addition of a new MAX light-rail line in September 2009 and changes made to the agency's "Fareless Square" area. TriMet has designated an area, including most of downtown Portland, in which riders could ride trains and buses for free. However, the agency recently instituted changes so that rides are only free on trains, said TriMet Communications Director Mary Fetsch in an email.
Although total heavy rail ridership fell 1.5 percent in Q1, Chicago Transit Authority's ridership rose nearly 3 percent to 48.4 million riders and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's ridership went up 2.5 percent to 11.7 million trips compared with Q1 2009.
Meanwhile, seven out of 27 commuter-rail systems reported Q1 ridership gains. However, total commuter-rail ridership declined 3.1 percent vs. the same period last year.