Transit group touts 2014 ridership increase

Transit group touts 2014 ridership increase
© Curtis Compton

U.S. residents took 10.8 billion trips on public transit systems in 2014, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) said Monday. 

The Washington, D.C-based transit group said the figure is the highest number for U.S. transit ridership since 1957.  

"In 2014, people took a record 10.8 billion trips on public transportation -- the highest annual ridership number in 58 years," APTA CEO Phillip Washington said in a statement. "Some public transit systems experienced all-time record high ridership last year. This record ridership didn't just happen in large cities. It also happened in small and medium size communities."

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The ridership announcement comes as some lawmakers are debating the importance of the federal government’s transit spending as Congress is attempting to craft a new transportation bill. 

Several Republican lawmakers suggested during a hearing on U.S. infrastructure funding in February that a provision that requires 20 percent of all federal gas tax revenue that is collected to be set aside for transit projects should be eliminated as lawmakers search for way to boost the nation’s spending on roads.

"Whenever I look at the mandatory split of 20 percent for transit and sometimes see buses passing by with two folks on them, it doesn't always seem to be kind of I guess best bang for the buck being invested in some cases," Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) said during the Feb. 11 hearing.  

The transit subsidy was established during the Reagan administration in 1983. The rule requires that 20 percent of all revenue that is collected from the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gas tax be diverted to a mass transit account within the Department of Transportation's Highway Trust Fund. 

The remaining 80 percent of the gas tax money that is collected is used to pay for road and bridge projects.

APTA President Michael Melaniphy said the 2014 ridership totals showed the transit funding should be protected, despite the GOP’s criticism. 

"People are changing their travel behavior and want more travel options," Melaniphy said. "In the past people had a binary choice. You either took public transit, most likely a bus, or you drove a car. Now there are multiple options with subways, light rail, streetcars, commuter trains, buses, ferries, cars and shared use vehicles."

Melaniphy added that the transit ridership increase came as gas prices were dropping to their lowest levels in years in 2014. 

"Despite the steep decline in gas prices at the end of last year, public transit ridership increased,” he said. “This shows that once people start riding public transit, they discover that there are additional benefits besides saving money."

The largest ridership increases for “heavy rail” subway systems like Washington, D.C.’s Metrorail in 2014 were San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, and Miami, according to the transit group. 

The largest increases for newer light rail systems occurred in Houston, San Diego, Denver, and Seattle, according to the group. APTA said the top five light rail cities all experienced double digit increases in their ridership in 2014.