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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis December 16, 2011
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Ridership Increases in Last Three Quarters of the Year; Third Quarter Sees 52 Million More Trips

U.S. residents continue to turn to public transportation, according to APTA’s recently released ridership report for the third quarter of 2011.

The report reveals that Americans took 2.6 billion trips on public transit from July through September 2011, a 2 percent increase over the same period last year.

This means that nearly 52 million more trips were taken on U.S. public transportation in the third quarter compared to the same period last year—more than the paid attendance at every regular season National Football League game during the 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons!

Both USA Today and The Washington Post reported on the ridership numbers.

This is the first time since 2008 that the first, second, and third quarters of the year all reflected ridership growth—a fact that can be attributed to a number of factors including high gas prices, improved real-time passenger information, and a recovering economy.

New service extensions also contributed to the increase.

“This increase in ridership shows that Americans want more transportation choices and will use public transportation if it is available in their community,” said APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy. “Also, transit agency investments are paying off, resulting in riders experiencing a higher level of quality service.”

Noting the important link between public transportation and the economy, Melaniphy said: “Nearly 60 percent of public transportation trips are taken for work commutes. In addition, whenever gas prices are high, people decide to save money by taking public transportation instead of driving.”

This is a turnaround from late 2008, when the economic recession caused ridership numbers to fall throughout 2009—an expected outcome when considering the 60 percent of trips taken by commuters.

In 2011, however, ridership growth has remained steady, with 1.6 percent increases in the first and second quarters.

Breakdown of the Numbers
Light rail led the third quarter with growth of 5.8 percent.

Twenty-two of 27 light rail systems reported increased ridership, with the biggest growth in Dallas, TX (36.4 percent); Seattle, WA (35.8 percent); Salt Lake City, UT (21.0 percent); Buffalo, NY (19.5 percent); Oceanside, CA (16.0 percent); and Philadelphia, PA (10.0 percent).

Other light rail systems showing significant percentage increases were in Seattle, WA (8.3 percent); Phoenix, AZ (7.8 percent); and Los Angeles, CA (7.6 percent).

Commuter rail ridership was up 2.7 percent, including a triple-digit increase in Austin, TX, which had extensive expansion of its service. Six cities saw double-digit increases: Nashville, TN (30.2 percent); Oceanside, CA (22.7 percent); Portland, OR (16.2 percent); Seattle, WA (11.8 percent); San Carlos, CA (10.7 percent); and Salt Lake City, UT (10.1 percent).

Heavy rail was up 2.0 percent with 13 of 15 systems experiencing increases. Cities whose heavy rail systems showed the highest percentage of increases were Cleveland, OH (9.7 percent); Philadelphia, PA (8.7 percent); Boston, MA (7.0 percent); and San Francisco, CA (6.1 percent).

Bus systems also saw their ridership rise by 1.4 percent nationwide. Two cities had double-digit increases in the third quarter: Columbus, OH, with 10.8 percent and St. Louis, MO, with 10.3 percent.

Additional major ridership increases for large bus agencies were in Long Beach, CA (9.3 percent); San Antonio, TX (7.7 percent); Miami, FL (7.3 percent); Orlando, FL (6.8 percent); San Diego, CA (6.7 percent); Washington, DC (5.7 percent); Arlington Heights, IL (5.4 percent); Minneapolis, MN (5.4 percent); and Cleveland, OH (5.2 percent).

The text of the report is available here.
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