(Corrects figure in third graph to billion, not million)
WASHINGTON, March 11 The number of Americans
commuting by public transportation rose to the second highest
level on record last year, as more people returned to work,
according to an annual survey released by the leading U.S.
transit association on Monday.
The growth in ridership would have been even stronger, if
Superstorm Sandy had not stranded people and shut down transit
along the East Coast, where public transportation is most
concentrated, American Public Transportation Association
President Michael Melaniphy said.
Altogether, U.S. transit ridership rose 1.49 percent, with
passengers taking 10.52 billion trips on trains, buses and
commuter rail in 2012.
The increase was universal across the different modes of
There were 1.42 percent more trips on heavy rail such as
subways, 4.47 percent more on light rail, and 0.52 percent more
on commuter rail than in 2011. Meanwhile, bus ridership grew 1.2
percent. Some of the light rail rise came from cities expanding
or creating lines.
In the final quarter of the year, though, transit use was
lower than in the fourth quarter of 2011, a reflection of
Superstorm Sandy hitting in the fall. In November, New York and
New Jersey, the states struck most by the storm, lost at least
Rising fuel prices and a dislike of traffic contributed to
the largest transit ridership since 2008, which was the highest
year on records dating back to 1957, Melaniphy said.
Nonetheless, he added, nearly 60 percent of all transit
trips are taken by people going to work.
"You can't get people back to work unless you can get them
to work," Melaniphy said.
While the U.S. unemployment rate is stuck above the 6.5
percent that most economists consider healthy, it has been
dropping for more than a year. The rate ended 2012 at 7.8
percent, well below where it ended 2011, 8.5 percent, according
to Labor Department statistics.
The association points to places such as Seattle,
Washington, where transit rides rose 11.8 percent over the year
as the metropolitan area added more than 30,000 jobs.
At least 15 transit systems experienced record ridership
last year, according to APTA. While some were in cities with
well-established public transportation, such as Boston,
Massachusetts, others were in areas associated more with
freeways and commuting by car - namely Riverside and San
The question hanging over the industry is whether transit
can meet mounting demand. Traditionally, fares only represent
part of the agencies' capital and operating budgets, with
federal, state and local governments providing a hefty share.
Melaniphy points to voter initiatives to raise taxes for
transit that passed last year - 49 out of 62 measures placed on
ballots. The association has not seen such a high passage rate
for transit funding initiatives since 2000.
Places where Sandy damaged the infrastructure are borrowing
to bring transit back on-line. New York's Metropolitan
Transportation Authority, which carried 11 million bus and train
passengers each day, has approved selling up to $2.5 billion of
short-term bond anticipation notes for Sandy costs.
At the same time, the U.S. Congress in 2012 passed a
long-awaited authorization for funding surface transportation.
It includes loan, financing and grant programs that systems will
be able to use for repairs or new equipment. The account,
supplied by gas tax revenues used to fund federal
transportation, was put off-limits from the $85 billion in
spending cuts known as "sequestration."
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Jackie Frank)