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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

U.S. rail ridership increased as overall public transit use dipped 1.3 percent in 2015


Although total U.S. public transit ridership fell 1.3 percent in 2015, light- and heavy-rail ridership increased, according to the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) year-end ridership report.

Light-rail ridership nudged up 0.4 percent last year, with 12 out of 28 agencies reporting increases. The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County in Houston, for example, experienced a 24.1 percent increase in this category due to new light-rail lines opening in May 2015.

Additionally, light-rail ridership in Buffalo, N.Y., rose 21.4 percent compared with 2014.

Meanwhile, heavy-rail ridership increased 0.2 percent, with 10 out of 15 systems reporting increases. Cities reporting increased ridership in this category include: Cleveland (3.8 percent); Chicago (1.5 percent); Atlanta (0.7 precent); and Philadelphia (0.3 percent).

Nationally, commuter-rail ridership was flat in comparison to 2014. Two commuter-rail systems logged double-digit increases, however: Orlando, Fla. (56.7 percent) and Seattle (12.9 percent).

Last year, ridership across all modes of public transit declined to 10.6 billion trips compared with 2014's record 10.8 billion trips. Despite the decline, the figure represents the third highest annual ridership in the past decade, APTA officials said in a press release.

Lower gas prices may have impacted ridership: In 2015, the average price of gasoline was $2.52 per gallon, which was 26.7 percent lower than it was in the previous year. The cost of gas fell to $2.26 in the fourth-quarter 2015.

On average, every 10 percent drop in gas prices leads to a 1.8 percent decrease in public transportation ridership, APTA officials said.

Increased fares also may have led to a decline in ridership. Fares increased 4.8 percent in 2015, rising from a national average of $1.87 in 2014 to $1.96 last year.

Still, some transit agencies reported record ridership systemwide, including Caltrain, the Chicago Transit Authority, MTA Metro-North Railroad and Minneapolis' Metro Transit, according to APTA.