Get on the Bus (With Everybody Else)

Austin's new commuter rail line helped fuel impressive transit ridership growth. Photo: ##http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Downtown_MetroRail_station.JPG##Sahmeditor##

Has your morning bus commute gotten a little more crowded lately? Sharing the light rail car with a few more folks? That’s because transit ridership just keeps rising, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Americans took 85.7 million more trips on public transportation in the first six months of this year than they did during the same months last year.

It’s not just tough economic times that gets people on the bus (or train). Sure, tighter family budgets and high gas prices lead people to look for alternatives to driving, and that boosts transit ridership. But the recession cuts both ways when it comes to transit. APTA is justified in predicting even greater ridership when the recession ends, since more people with jobs means more people commuting.

The most impressive numbers — a 221 percent increase in Austin’s commuter rail ridership — are a little misleading, since its commuter rail system opened in March 2010, halfway through the period being examined. Still, ridership grew impressively across the south, and there’s no harm in crediting new capacity with the growth. Dallas saw a 32 percent growth in light rail, Nashville saw a 38.5 increase in commuter rail, and Miami’s bus ridership grew by 10 percent while its heavy rail ridership grew by 6.4 percent.

The 85.7 million additional trips represent a small but significant 1.7 percent increase, proving, yet again, the importance of transit in U.S. life. It’s a good reminder to government officials that they should look elsewhere for a budget line item to cut. People rely on transit to get to work, to save money, and to reduce congestion — all important goals that governments should be supporting.

APTA’s full second quarter report is here [PDF].

  • The report doesn’t seem to say that bus is growing.  It has bus shrinking by 1% nationally.  I see that my local bus agency (AC Transit) has plummeting ridership, due no doubt to their appalling on-time performance.  There seems to be a mode shift from AC Transit (-3 million trips) to BART (+2.8 million trips) and also possible from bus to car as well (impossible to tell from this incomplete data).

  • Davistrain

    Interesting that the headline reads “Get on the Bus” while the illustration shows a light-rail train.  There’s been an ongoing discussion amongst transit enthusiasts and professionals about bus vs. train, and how some Americans would “sooner die than take a bus to the hospital” but find trains an acceptable form of non-automotive transport.  This attitude can
    be traced back at least 60 years:  There’s a story about a businessman in Southern California who lived in San Marino and rode the Pacific Electric Red Cars to his office in Los Angeles most mornings.  Occasionally he would drive in (perhaps for a midday meeting away from the office), but usually he’d walk to Huntington Dr. and catch the train.  It would have been 60 years ago this week that his wife noticed him heading for the garage.  “Oh, taking the car today.”  “Yes, the Red Cars quit running over the weekend” “I read about that in the paper.  They’re going to be running buses on Huntington Dr. instead.  You aren’t taking the bus?”  “Certainly not!  Buses are for poor people!”

  • Buses sit in traffic like everything else, while rail can roll on by. I take the bus fairly regularly, but I ride my bike more. Why? Because the bike gets me to work faster than the bus.

    Of course, if we had bus lanes that would help immensely. In LA we’re supposed to get one down Wilshire next year, but we’ll see if that happens.

  • If you look closely, that’s not even light rail, it’s a DMU. Diesel train, running with a very light rail-style design, but also able to run on existing frieght tracks. Similar to the “Sprinter” in northern San Diego County.

    Tends to be cheaper than electric light rail, so you get the benefits of “it’s not a bus” without the cost of building light rail.

  • Davistrain

    DMU is considered (by many railfans and transit professionals) to be a form of “light rail”.  For one thing, Light-rail style DMUs are not allowed on the same track  at the same time with freight trains.  The San Diego County Sprinter tracks are used by a freight train only after the last DMU is “tied up” for the night.  Note that some heavier DMUs such as the old Budd RDCs are “FRA compliant” and may run with freight trains

  • I like DMU, which can be useful in the right situations.

    However, it may be a “form of light rail” but I would think that for votes, elections, bond measures and decision-making/ budget time, people would want to know the difference between electrified light rail and DMU.

    For the sake of completeness and simplicity, I’d think light rail as we understand it in Los Angeles should be separated from DMU. If nothing else, the electric trains would be cleaner.

  • @facebook-6409509:disqus Obviously you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting San Francisco, where then Muni light rail cars also sit in traffic, just like a bus, but without the ability to maneuver around obstacles.

  • The Muni light rail trains sit in traffic unless they are underneath Market Street, where they zip along with no trouble. 

    And one level below that is the BART subway, which of course is 100% underground or elevated.

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