Encouraged by increasing ridership and a commitment from the White House to expand funding for public transportation, industry leaders presented a forward-looking assessment of the state of U.S. public transportation in general—and intercity and passenger rail in particular—at a press event June 13 during the APTA Rail Conference in Boston.
Participating in the event were APTA President William Millar; Peter M. Rogoff, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration; Joseph C. Szabo, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration; and Richard A. Davey, general manager and rail transit administrator for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, host system for the conference.
More than 20 reporters from across the country, as well as local Boston media, took part. News outlets included represented the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, New York’s National Public Radio Transportation Nation, the Boston Globe, and Greenwire.
“Over the last few years,” said Millar, “we have seen many transit systems across the country suffer from service cuts, fare increases, and layoffs. However, 2010 marked a turnaround year for the public transportation industry.” He said ridership rose slightly in the fourth quarter of 2010 and this trend has continued, with a 1.6 percent increase in the first quarter of 2011.
“This is the highest increase in rail and overall public transportation ridership in two years,” Millar added. “In other words, 39 million more trips were taken on public transportation in the first quarter of 2011—that’s three million more rides per week. And the reports we are getting from systems is that ridership is continuing to increase in the second quarter as well, with some systems seeing double-digit increases.”
Rogoff discussed the Obama administration’s support for public transportation and its placement in the administration’s priorities. “The Obama administration is committed to forward progress in transit investment precisely because transit accomplishes so many of the administration’s priority goals at a time when gas prices are creeping up around four dollars,” the administrator said. “Investing in public transportation helps Americans keep more of their paycheck in their wallet, as opposed to handing it over to the gas pump.”
Szabo stressed the importance of funding rail transportation as a part of achieving a balanced transportation system for Americans. “Investing in rail transportation is a great alternative to our addiction to oil,” he said. “We believe in implementing a comprehensive passenger rail service that includes high-speed rail, core express service, and regional rail service that are all tailored to fit a particular need and serve specific markets. We lack that balance today and should provide the choice for our citizens.”
Davey noted that the MBTA provided 1.3 million rides on a daily basis in April 2011, for the first time since September 2008.
“We are seeing customers and passengers come back in droves,” said Davey. “This is good news for rail and overall transit ridership, but it also is indicative of what the nation is seeing.”