Return to the Rails: Americans Embrace Public Transit

Light rail travel was up 5.6 percent last year across the nation.© GETTY IMAGES

Not in 50 years have so many Americans availed themselves of public transit according to the nonprofit American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Based on the results of its annual ridership survey, the group announced last week that Americans took 10.1 billion trips on local public transportation in 2006, up 30 percent since 1995. The last time Americans took as many trips on public transit was 1957.

"This significant ridership milestone is part of a multi-year trend as more and more Americans ride public transit to get to destinations important to them, while realizing the benefits of saving money and avoiding congestion," William Millar, president of APTA, told reporters. "Public transit ridership helps reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil and decreases our contribution to global warming; but ultimately, this milestone represents 10 billion reasons to increase local and federal investment in public transportation."

Light rail topped APTA’s list as the mode with the highest recent growth trend. It had a 5.6 percentage overall nationwide increase last year alone—thanks to ridership spikes in such cities as San Jose, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City. Heavy rail, commuter rail and bus ridership increased significantly as well in 2006.

"Public transportation is a proven way to meet our nation’s goals," said Millar. "As Congress looks to find ways to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil and reduce emissions causing global warming, we call on them to increase investment and include incentives to encourage further use of public transportation."

Source: American Public Transportation Association