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Public transit ridership jumped 5 percent in the first quarter compared with the same 2011 period, according to American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Nearly 2.7 billion trips were taken, marking the fifth consecutive quarter that ridership increased.
Light-rail ridership rose 6.7 percent, heavy-rail ridership grew 5.5 percent and commuter-rail ridership increased 3.9 percent. In a ridership report, APTA said 25 out of 27 light-rail, 14 out of 15 heavy-rail, and 22 out of 27 commuter-rail systems posted gains in the quarter.
APTA officials attribute the ridership growth to rising gas prices, an improving employment picture, more reliable service being provided by transit agencies and demographic changes in which younger people (age 16 to 34) are driving automobiles less and using public transit more than older generations.
At a press conference held yesterday during APTA’s annual Rail Conference in Dallas, association officials lauded the Q1 ridership gains, but pointed out that higher rider demand means more money will be needed for expansion and improvements.
"We are on a tear. This is fantastic," APTA President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Melaniphy said, adding that the public transit industry can't rest on its laurels because the numbers show the public increasingly wants transit services, meaning "continued investment in infrastructure is critical."
Melaniphy and other press conference guests, including Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo, said the transit ridership trends indicate that it's imperative for Congress to pass a fully funded, long-term, multi-modal surface transportation bill before the current law's latest extension expires on June 30.
If Congress fails to act prior to month's end, the consequences for transit agencies would be dire, the speakers said. For the past 27 days, a House-Senate conference committee has been trying to hash out the details of a bill. Ultimately, the legislation needs to be a multi-modal bill that recognizes the fact that "Americans' travel habits are rapidly changing" and that a growing number of Americans want a greater choice in their transportation options, said Szabo.
— Julie Sneider