APTA | Passenger Transport
February 16, 2009

In This Issue


New Report Highlights Benefits of Increased Investment in Public Transit
By JOHN R. BELL, Program Manager-Communications

A new APTA discussion paper explains how raising America’s public transit ridership by 10 percent annually would make critical progress toward solving the country’s economic, energy, and environmental problems.

Such a steady and significant increase in ridership would bring many benefits:

* 8.9 million American “green jobs” supported

* $730 billion in increased business sales

* By 2020, a reduction in U.S. oil consumption of nearly the entire amount currently imported from the Persian Gulf, or the combined amount of all U.S. offshore reserves

* By 2020, elimination of almost 8 percent of the entire transportation sector’s carbon emissions

* An 11 percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 2020

By 2030, each American household, using public transportation or not, would save an average annual of $2,830.  In addition, the U.S. trade deficit would be dramatically reduced by the decline in fuel consumption.

This consistent level of ridership growth would bridge the gap between public-transit market share in United States and the European Union as early as 2030, according to Changing the Way America Moves: Creating a More Robust Economy, a Smaller Carbon Footprint, And Energy Independence.

The report also notes that a smaller annual ridership increase—5.5 percent—would amount to doubling ridership by 2020, tripling it by 2030, and growing it tenfold by 2050. This would still achieve great improvements, but at a slower pace:

* By 2020, a 6.5 percent reduction in VMT

* By 2050, a reduction of carbon emissions by more than one third

* By 2050, fuel savings of more than the amount of oil currently imported from OPEC countries

This 5.5 percent annual increase in ridership would make the U.S. public transportation market share equal to its share in the European Union by 2045.

The benefits that public transit can bring on a national level could not be more necessary, the report notes. The record increase public transit ridership since 1995 is straining capacity and budgets and is in many cases adversely leading to service cuts. At the same time, the share of America’s oil consumption that comes from foreign countries has increased from just over one-third to almost three-fifths since 1975. Moreover, the growth in vehicle miles traveled has  increased at more than four times the rate of the U.S. population.

In addition:

* The U.S. transportation sector generates about one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions—a share that is rising rapidly, mostly due to the increase in VMT.

* U.S. transportation petroleum use is almost 185 percent of U.S. petroleum production.

* American households spend 17.6 percent of their budgets on transportation; the average European Union household spends just 11.9 percent.

The investment required to achieve a 10 percent annual ridership increase would be $134.2 billion in capital costs and $102.3 billion in operating costs per year in current dollars, the report notes. However, this investment, which would come from federal, state, and private sources, is only 1.6 percent of national GDP and would result in savings to individuals and a boon to the economy. Moreover, every $1 billion in capital investment in public transportation yields $3 billion in increased business sales, and every $1 billion in operating investment in public transportation yields $3.2 billion in increased business sales. Such investments would pay far-reaching dividends at a time when our economy needs a large stimulus.

The report outlines how this steady growth could be brought about on the regional and community level: In areas with populations over 3 million, public transit “would carry a majority of all travel for work and a third of travel overall. Light, heavy and commuter rail systems would be extensive and act as a high-capacity backbone … supplemented by high-frequency streetcar and bus systems covering a large area of the city and surrounding region.”

Cities of one to three million would have solid commuter rail, light rail, streetcar and BRT systems, including extensive paratransit network, and carry more than one third of all work journeys and almost a fifth of travel overall. Areas with 500,000 to one million people would offer a dense network of high-quality street car, BRT and bus and paratransit systems, with service provided on a frequent basis. Cities of 100,000-500,000 would feature streetcar, bus and paratransit, while in areas with less than 100,000 residents, public transit would consist of fixed-route bus and paratransit service, with flexible service to rural areas.

The benefits of more public transportation have been recognized around the world, the report notes.  The city of Madrid has grown its public transit ridership by 70 percent in the last 20 years. Likewise, Shanghai has a plan in place to increase public transit trips from 21 percent of modal share in 2000 to 35 percent by 2020. And France plans to double its high speed rail network in the coming decade, as part of its effort to reduce carbon emissions to their 1990 levels.

Changing the Way America Moves: Creating a More Robust Economy, a Smaller Carbon Footprint, and Energy Independence is available here. It serves as a companion publication to APTA’s TransitVision 2050, which was published last October and is also available on the APTA web site.

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