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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis May 18, 2012
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Gas Price Volatility: An Opportunity for Public Transportation Ridership
BY SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor

What happens to public transportation ridership when gas prices spike—and then drop—and repeat? According to a just released analysis from APTA and Building America’s Future (BAF) that used historical trends and independent research data to make predictions, nationwide public transportation systems will add nearly 200 million new trips this year, even as gas prices fluctuate by as much as 50 cents per gallon.

APTA and BAF held a media conference call May 15 to discuss the findings and their applicability to long-term investment in the nation’s infrastructure as Congress begins House-Senate conference committee negotiations to pass a comprehensive, multi-year surface transportation authorization bill.

“The volatility of gas prices continues to highlight the vital need for our nation’s leaders to provide long-term solutions to the increasing demand for public transportation,” said APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy. “We call upon Congress to act now to handle this added demand. Our political leaders must continue to support the expansion of our infrastructure—because the demand puts pressure on the system.”

“Congestion on the roads is about reaching the intolerable level,” said BAF Co-Chair Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania and mayor of Philadelphia. “Public transportation is the backbone, not only of our big cities, but also our smaller cities as well. This is not the time to do less; it’s the time to do more.”

Rendell noted the need for billions of dollars in all aspects of the country’s infrastructure, not just public transportation. He called for a 10-year funding plan for this, saying: “It’s not should we do this. We must do this.”

A 10-year bill, said Gary Thomas, president/executive director of Dallas Area Rapid Transit and APTA chair, “allows people to look ahead. Getting us to 2013 [through a short-term authorization] really just sets us up for a conversation about a long-term bill.”

Thomas said the APTA study “emphasizes that the elasticity of gas prices proves that Americans across this country view public transportation as an integral part of the transportation network.”

Paul Jablonski, chief executive officer of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System and chair of the California Transit Association, reiterated the need for Congress to pass surface transportation authorization legislation. With long-term funding, he said, “we can start to create systems that the public can rely on, because they will be lasting a long time.” Moreover, he added, “public transit projects create jobs. Investment in public transit is a boon to local economies.”

Said Curtis Stitt, president and chief executive officer of the Central Ohio Transit Authority in Columbus: “Gas prices are what drove a lot of people to our services in 2011, but we’ve found that they are staying—and ridership is continuing to grow.” Stitt also noted that riders find they can budget with public transit because the cost of a weekly or monthly pass will not fluctuate with the cost of gas.

Among the reporters asking questions were representatives from Politico, Dallas Morning News, and Huffington Post.
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