U.S. transit ridership at highest point since 1956

Americans haven't been on transit this much since the passage of the Interstate Highway Act.

The latest annual ridership numbers from the American Public Transportation Association show that more than 10.65 billion trips were taken on public transit last year in the United States.

According to the transit trade association, it's the highest ridership level since 1956, the same year U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act. The law helped build thousands of miles of new roads and led to the rise of suburbs as we know them today. 

"There is a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities," said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy, in a statement. "People in record numbers are demanding more public transit services and communities are benefiting with strong economic growth."

And it's not just population growth that's driving ridership. Since 1995, transit ridership is up 37.2 percent. Over the same time, the U.S. population has grown only 20.3 percent. Vehicle miles traveled is growing at a slower pace than transit, since 1995, up 22.7 percent. 

As the New York Times points out, a big difference from last year and previous years when transit ridership broke records, like 2008, is that gas prices were steadily under $4 last year. In 2008, gas prices hit $4-$5 a gallon. 

From 2012 to 2013 transit ridership was up 1.1 percent. Here's how that breaks down by transit type:

  • Heavy rail (subways, elevated rail): up 2.8 percent
  • Commuter rail: up 2.1 percent
  • Light rail (streetcars, trolleys): up 1.6 percent
  • Bus: down 0.1 percent (but up 3.8 percent in cities with populations under 100,000)

These numbers don't even take into account other innovative ways people are getting around cities without their own private car. People can now get around with  carshare -- with providers like Zipcar -- or bikeshare -- which saw its U.S. fleet double last year -- or app-based taxi ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.

All of these factors are combining to make car commuting a less common way to get to work, with 99 of the top 100 U.S. urban areas seeing a decline in the number of people using a private vehicle to commute

For ridership numbers in individual cities there's a wealth of data here

Photo: Flickr/onesevenone

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