Transit lobby to Congress: Ridership up, funding needed

Public transportation use increased by 125.7 million trips in the first quarter of 2012, the Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group for transit systems said Monday. 

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) said the number of trips taken in the first quarter of 2012 represented a 5 percent increase over the amount of public transit use in the same period of 2011.

The largest increases were in light-rail use, which jumped 6.7 percent, and heavy-rail use, which rose 5.5 percent, the group said. 

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APTA President Michael Melaniphy said Monday that the increase in public transportation ridership was tied to higher gas prices in the early months of this year.

“High gas prices were part of the reason for this large first-quarter ridership increase,” Melaniphy said in a statement. “More and more people are choosing to save money by taking public transportation when gas prices are high.” 

The price of gasoline has dropped some after climbing during much of the first quarter of 2012. The AAA Auto Club reported the average price for a gallon of gas Monday was $3.58, down from $3.72 a month ago. 

But Melaniphy said Monday that gas prices were not the only reason people were choosing to take public transit. 

“There are a number of reasons why more Americans are using public transportation,” he said. “For example, public transportation systems are delivering better, reliable service, and the use of real-time technology, which many systems use, makes it easy for riders to know when the next bus or train will arrive.”

Melaniphy said Monday the increased use of public transit should encourage lawmakers to reach a deal as quickly possible on transportation spending. They have been negotiating on a possible compromise on transportation spending for the better part of a month. 

“As Congress is negotiating a federal surface transportation bill that is now more than two and a half years overdue, our federal representatives need to act before the June 30 deadline to ensure that public transportation systems will be able to meet the growing demand,” Melaniphy said. “It’s obvious from the surge in public transit ridership in the first quarter that Americans need and want public transportation.”

The House has passed an extension of current transportation funding beyond the scheduled June 30 deadline, which would carry highway and transit spending through Sept. 30. But in order for that measure to become law, it would have to also be approved by the Senate.

This story was posted at 1:09 p.m. and updated at 7:59 p.m.