Economic Downturn Hits Transit Ridership — But Not in These Cities

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) got the mainstream media’s attention during the holiday season after reporting that the dismal economy had helped push transit ridership down by 3.8 percent during the first three-quarters of 2009, when compared with the previous year.

trans5.jpgRidership on L.A.’s heavy rail system grew by nearly 6 percent during the first three-quarters of 2009. (Photo: LA2Day)

But amid the bleak data from cities such as Cleveland, where rail ridership fell by more than 14 percent during the first nine months of 2009, and Miami, where the funding-starved Tri-Rail system saw more than 10 percent fewer riders during that period, the APTA report found some transit success stories.

Los Angeles’ Metro subway, one section of which topped 2020 ridership projections in its first year of operation, saw ridership grow by nearly 6 percent during the first nine months of 2009.

Baltimore’s light rail grew by an even greater margin, according to APTA, with unlinked passenger trips topping 6.7 million during the first three-quarters of last year. That represents a 13.9 percent increase over the same period in 2008, when riders took an estimated 5.9 million unlinked trips.

The SEPTA light rail system in the Philadelphia area also climbed higher in APTA’s report, tallying more than 21.2 million unlinked trips during the first three-quarters of 2009 after marking 18 million during the same period in 2008 — an increase of 17.5 percent.

Among commuter rail networks, New Mexico’s much-anticipated Rail Runner extension from Albuquerque to Santa Fe helped ridership more than double during the first nine months of 2009, and Boston’s system reported a ridership increase of more than 2.3 percent compared with the same period in 2008.

The situation was much bleaker for the country’s biggest bus systems, which saw an overall ridership drop of nearly 5 percent during the first nine months of 2009. San Francisco was the only major city in APTA’s report to mark an increase in bus travel, with unlinked passenger trips rising by about 1 percent.

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