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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis March 21, 2014
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U.S. Transit Ridership at 57-Year High: 10.7 Billion Trips

Public transit ridership in 2013 reached a 57-year peak with 10.7 billion trips—115 million more than in 2012. As APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy said at the APTA Legislative Conference, the last time ridership was this high was in 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House and Elvis Presley dominated the pop music charts. (See related conference story.)

Last year was the eighth in a row that passengers took more than 10 billion trips on public transportation systems nationwide. While vehicle miles traveled on roads went up 0.3 percent in 2013, public transportation use increased by 1.1 percent.

“There is a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities. People in record numbers are demanding more public transit services and communities are benefiting with strong economic growth,” Melaniphy said.

APTA Chair Peter Varga added: “Americans in growing numbers want to have more public transit services in their communities. Public transportation systems nationwide—in small, medium, and large communities—saw ridership increases. Some reported all-time high ridership numbers.”

The record ridership received widespread coverage in print, broadcast, and digital media. Financial ­publications such as Bond Buyer and Fiscal Times also reported on it.

Fitch Ratings said: “Public transportation investment strategies will need to transform if trends toward increased ­multifamily housing, declines in driving, and increasing ­public transportation usage continue over the long run.”

Moody’s Investment ­Services said in a Bond Buyer story: “Record ridership is just one of several credit positives for public transit agencies.”

Cities whose public transit agencies reported record ridership system-wide or on specific lines included Ann Arbor, MI; Cleveland, OH; Denver, CO; ­Espanola, NM; Flagstaff, AZ; Fort Myers, FL; Indianapolis, IN; Los ­Angeles, CA; New Orleans, LA; Oakland, CA; ­Pompano Beach, FL; Riverside, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; San Carlos, CA; Tampa, FL; Yuma, AZ; and New York, NY.

For example, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority in Pompano Beach reported record ridership on Tri-Rail commuter rail in 2013: 4.3 million trips, 7.1 percent above the previous year.

“Last year we experienced the highest ridership in our 25-year history,” said SFRTA Executive Director Jack Stephens. “With the south Florida economy finally turning around, more people are working and, therefore, more people need to get to work. Also, since we enhanced weekend service from two-hour to hourly headways, we’ve seen double-digit ridership increases on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.”

The Riverside Transit Agency (RTA) broke ridership records in eight of the last 12 months of 2013. The California system provided 9.3 million trips on its buses in 2013, up from the previous record of 9.1 million in 2012.

“People want a safe and efficient alternative way to get around and we are working hard to give them what they want,” said RTA Chief Executive Officer Larry Rubio. “Our customers are discovering that riding an RTA bus is a quality experience. Once a customer rides RTA, we’re confident they’ll return.”

Some factors contributing to the growth, according to RTA, are a resurgence of local and regional economies, improvements in route connectivity, enhanced ­service to schools and Metrolink commuter rail stations, and service extensions.

In Flagstaff, the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority (NAIPTA) credited “momentum and resource management” for its record ridership of 1.8 million trips, almost 3 percent more than in 2012. “We fine-tuned peak bus hours to meet demand and continued providing consistent, friendly, on-time performance. There was a lot of hard work by committed staff, but no magic in this year’s numbers,” said NAIPTA Chief Executive Officer-General Manager Jeff Meilbeck.

The agency reported growth of almost 11 percent on its Mountain Link BRT route.

Michael Allegra, general manager, Utah Transit Authority, noted that widespread acceptance of its commuter rail and light rail lines led to historically high ridership levels.

“We are thrilled that our FrontRunner commuter rail and TRAX light rail lines have been embraced by the traveling public up and down the Salt Lake Valley,” he said. “Through thoughtful planning and with the dedication of our hard-working general contractors, we were able to add 56 miles of new rail service over the past year and complete these projects two years ahead of schedule and $300 million under budget. This new rail service has given our passengers new options for commuting to work, ­getting to and from Salt Lake International Airport, and to access Utah’s many recreational opportunities.”

Mode by Mode
Heavy rail led public transit modes for the year with a 2.8 percent increase in ridership, followed by 2.1 percent for commuter rail and 1.6 percent for light rail, which includes modern streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys.

Miami, FL, showed the largest increase among heavy rail agencies, 10.6 percent, followed by 4.8 percent in Los Angeles, CA, 4.2 percent in New York City, and 2.9 percent in Cleveland. Eight out of 15 systems reported increases in 2013.

Twenty out of 28 commuter rail systems saw higher ridership in 2013, led by the Utah Transit Authority, Salt Lake City, whose triple-digit increase of 103.3 percent increase was related to the opening of a new rail line in December 2012.

Reporting double-digit increases were Austin, TX, 37.3 percent; Harrisburg-Philadelphia, PA, 33.9 percent; Anchorage, AK, 30 percent; Lewisville, TX, 23.0 percent; Stockton, CA, 19.9 percent; Minneapolis, MN, 12.5 percent; and Portland, OR, 10.3 percent.

Among light rail systems, 17 out of 27 reported ridership growth in 2013. New Orleans, LA, led the sector with a 28.9 percent increase, followed by ­Denver, CO, 14.9 percent, and San Diego, CA, 10.4 percent.

Bus ridership in areas with a population of less than 100,000 rose 3.8 percent. Overall bus ridership in communities of all sizes held mostly steady. Bus systems in large cities reporting increases included Washington, DC, 3.5 percent; Houston, TX, and ­Cincinnati, OH, 3.4 percent; and Seattle, WA, 3.1 percent.

Demand-response (paratransit) ridership increased in 2013 by 0.5 percent.

The report is available here.

APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy displays copies of USA Today and The New York Times reporting the 57-year record public transit ridership in 2013. More than 2,000 media outlets carried the story.

Photo by Mitchell Wood

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