Public transit systems see big ridership gains

LOS ANGELES — Americans are boarding public buses, trains and subways in greater numbers than any time since the suburbs began booming.

Nearly 10.7 billion trips in 2013, to be precise — the highest total since 1956, according to ridership data reported by transit systems nationally and released Monday by the American Public Transportation Association.

Transit ridership has now fully recovered from a dip caused by the Great Recession. With services restored following economy-driven cutbacks, ridership numbers appear set to continue what had been a steady increase.

“People are making a fundamental shift to having options” aside from a car in how they get around, said Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO of the public transportation association. “This is a long-term trend. This isn’t just a blip.”

Expanding bus and train networks help spur the growth.

Ridership on Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority light-rail trains increased six percent over 2012, as the public took advantage of an expanded network of lines. Overall, LA Metro gained nine million trips to reach 478 million in 2013, the transportation association said. Among the other transit systems in California with record ridership was the Caltrain commuter rail service that connects San Francisco with Silicon Valley.

Houston and Phoenix, two cities which have been more notable for their sprawl than public transportation offerings, had large ridership gains. So did Seattle, Miami, Denver and San Diego. The New York area’s behemoth transit network saw the greatest gain, accounting for one in three trips nationally.

Transit advocates argue that the public increasingly values the ability to get around without a car. They offer as evidence the nation’s urban shift and the movement to concentrate new development around transit hubs.

“People want to work and live along transit lines,” Melaniphy said. “Businesses, universities and housing are all moving along those corridors.”

By the numbers:

Americans are boarding public buses, trains and subways in greater numbers than any time since the suburbs began booming, according to new ridership numbers.

Public transit passengers took nearly 10.7 billion trips in 2013 — the highest total since 1956.

What follows is a look at which transit agencies saw the biggest gains.

Urban area; Agency; Increase in unlinked passenger trips 2012 to 2013; percent increase

New York City; New York City Transit Authority; 120,635,700; 3.6 percent

Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority; 9,194,200; 2 percent

Phoenix; Valley Metro; 4,240,000; 40 percent

New York City; New Jersey Transit; 4,049,700; 1.5 percent

Seattle; King County Department of Transportation; 3,204,400; 2.7 percent

Miami; Miami-Dade Transit Agency; 2,493,800; 2.3 percent

Seattle; Sound Transit; 2,341,600; 8.4 percent

Denver; Regional Transportation District; 2,257,500; 2.6 percent

Houston; Metro Transit Authority; 2,257,000; 2.7 percent

San Diego; Metropolitan Transit System; 2,230,000; 2.6 percent

Source: American Public Transportation Association

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