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June 07, 2012

More Americans Taking Transit, Choosing Higher Fuel Economy

TransitHere is some welcome news from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA): Transit ridership was up five percent in the first quarter of 2012 over the same period last year.

According to APTA's newest numbers this is the fifth consecutive quarter of growth for rail and bus systems.  Americans took 2.7 billion trips on transit, with high gas prices helping to encourage the switch. But APTA notes that even when gas prices start to fall, riders stick with transit.   

It isn’t just the big systems you might think about that are riding high, like NY or Chicago.  Record ridership was recorded in Ann Arbor, MI; Charlotte, NC; Fort Myers, FL; Indianapolis, IN; Ithaca, NY; Oakland, CA; Olympia, WA; San Diego, CA; and Tampa, FL. 

Federal Rail Administrator Joseph Szabo also backed up APTA, "(P)eople are driving less and using transit more - and that those changes are permanent. America’s travel habits are undergoing rapid change," he said.

APTA’s and Administrator Szabo's assessment of transit ridership was consistent with a Washington Post story showing that America’s love affair with the car may be waning.  The Post story notes that congestion and high gas prices help diminish the allure of the car and the notion of driving as fun. 

Both Administrator Szabo and the Post story reference U.S. PIRG's very thorough analysis of how much we are driving and why we are driving less.  Nationally, those under 35 are driving less – dropping 23% between 2001 and 2009. 

Younger Americans are not getting drivers licenses at the same rate as in the past.  Getting on the bus or train gets you where you need to go, while you stay connected by smart phone or tablet (or read the paper or a book). 

Shifts are not only afoot in how much we drive but also in what we choose to drive. A recent Consumer’s Union poll also revealed that 35% of Americans are driving less.  And for Americans who are looking to buy a new car, fuel efficiency is now most important.  Of those saddled with a gas guzzling large SUV, less than three in 10 said they'd buy another.

When there are good choices to make, Americans are making them. We are driving less and taking advantage of public transportation to get where we need to go. And those that do drive are considering fuel efficiency. Both trends are good news when it comes to moving beyond oil.

-- Ann Mesnikoff, Director of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign

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