Mass transit had a banner year in 2008. Ridership was highest in over forty years and up 4% from 2007. Gas prices? Saving money on parking? Lowering carbon footprint? Were any or all of these behind the increase?
Bigger question: is this a fad, a long-term trend or even a climate shift in Americans' travel habits? Light rail showed an increase of 8% last year. So the planned federal funding of even more light rail should be welcomed in urban areas. People in the U.S. demonstrably want more mass transit according to thre November election: over 3/4 of the ballot props to bring more money to mass transit passed.
Amtrak in 2008 set a passenger record for the second straight year. So there seems to be a strong future for long-distance rail travel.
But wait, just last month Amtrak had a sharp year-to-year ridership decline as the recession makes travel more of a luxury.
Amtrak finds the economy is hurting travel and may respond by lowering ticket prices. Ridership began declining in November and that continues.