Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders to Mass Transit

"In almost every transit system, we're seeing very high rates of growth the last few months," said Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.

Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders to Mass Transit

In Unıted States with the price of gas approaching $4 a gallon, more commuters are abandoning their cars and taking the train or bus instead.

Mass transit ridership was up 8 percent in Denver in the first three months of the year compared with last year, despite a fare increase in January and a slowing economy.

Mass transit systems around the country are seeing standing-room-only crowds on bus lines where seats were once easy to come by. Parking lots at many bus and light rail stations are suddenly overflowing, with commuters in some towns risking a ticket or tow by parking on nearby grassy areas and in vacant lots.

"In almost every transit system I talk to, we're seeing very high rates of growth the last few months," said William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.

"It's very clear that a significant portion of the increase in transit use is directly caused by people who are looking for alternatives to paying $3.50 a gallon for gas."

Some cities with long-established public transit systems, like New York and Boston, have seen increases in ridership of 5 percent or more so far this year. But the biggest surges — of 10 to 15 percent or more over last year — are occurring in many metropolitan areas in the South and West where the driving culture is strongest and bus and rail lines are more limited.

Here in Denver, for example, ridership was up 8 percent in the first three months of the year compared with last year, despite a fare increase in January and a slowing economy, which usually means fewer commuters. Several routes on the system have reached capacity, particularly at rush hour, for the first time.

"We are at a tipping point," said Clarence W. Marsella, chief executive of the Denver Regional Transportation District, referring to gasoline prices.

Transit systems in metropolitan areas like Minneapolis, Seattle, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Francisco reported similar jumps. In cities like Houston, Nashville, Salt Lake City, and Charlotte, N.C., commuters in growing numbers are taking advantage of new bus and train lines built or expanded in the last few years. The American Public Transportation Association reports that localities with fewer than 100,000 people have also experienced large increases in bus ridership.

In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority reports that ridership was up the first three months of the year by more than 5 percent on the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro-North Railroad, while M.T.A. bus ridership was up 10.9 percent. New York City subway use was up 6.8 percent for January and February. Ridership on New Jersey Transit trains was up more than 5 percent for the first three months of the year.

DRIVING HABITS BEGIN TO CHANGE

The increase in transit use coincides with other signs that American motorists are beginning to change their driving habits, including buying smaller vehicles. The Energy Department recently predicted that Americans would consume slightly less gasoline this year than last — for the first yearly decline since 1991.

Oil prices broke yet another record on Friday, climbing $2.27, to $125.96 a barrel. The national average for regular unleaded gasoline reached $3.67 a gallon, up from $3.04 a year ago, according to AAA.

But meeting the greater demand for mass transit is proving difficult. The cost of fuel and power for public transportation is about three times that of four years ago, and the slowing economy means local sales tax receipts are down, so there is less money available for transit services. Higher steel prices are making planned expansions more expensive.

Typically, mass transit systems rely on fares to cover about a third of their costs, so they depend on sales taxes and other government funding. Few states use gas tax revenue for mass transit.

In Denver, transportation officials expected to pay $2.62 a gallon for diesel this year, but they are now paying $3.20. Every penny increase costs the Denver Regional Transportation District an extra $100,000 a year. And it is bracing for a $19 million shortfall in sales taxes this year from original projections.

"I'd like to put more buses on the street," Mr. Marsella said. "I can't expand service as much as I'd like to."

Average annual growth from sales tax revenue for the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, a rail service that connects San Francisco with Oakland, has been 4.5 percent over the last 15 years. It expects that to fall to 2 percent this year, and electricity costs are rising.

NYTimes
Last Mod: 10 Mayıs 2008, 09:50
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