Transit Ridership Grows, But Agencies Can’t Keep Up

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As gas prices soar, American workers are increasingly choosing to commute via public transit – good news for environmentalists and smart growth wonks everywhere! But high fuel costs are also crippling the budgets of many transit agencies that paid 44 percent more for fuel this year than last.

According to a new report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), public transit ridership was 3 percent higher in the first quarter of 2008 than it was last year (a difference of 85 million transit trips). Also, Americans took the more trips on transit last year than that have in 50 years (10.3 billion trips).

However, public transit budgets are often funded through sales tax revenues that have been shrinking as Americans spend less during tough economic times. Combined with high fuel costs, this means that transit agencies are increasingly cutting services.

Moreover, America’s sprawling land use patterns means that the vast majority of workers still can’t access transit. According to APTA president, William Millar, fewer than 20 percent of households have easy access to buses or trains. However, it’s not practical to assume that transit authorities, constrained by tight budgets, will be able to expand services to sprawling communities. Also, as we blogged about on Monday, the compact form of urban areas plays a key role in limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

As gas prices push more Americans out of their cars, it grows increasingly obvious that we have to more adequately fund public transit but also plan for dense cities where effective public transit is feasible.

And the really good news is that it’s not just environmentalists and smart growth wonks who think that way! In an October 2007 poll, sponsored by the National Realtors Association and Smart Growth America, nearly 90 percent of respondents believed that our communities should be designed so that we can walk more and drive less and that public transportation should be improved and accessible.

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