In 2012, ridership on public transportation in the United States reached a new milestone of 10.5 billion trips, representing an increase of 1.5 percent. This is the highest number of transit trips recorded for a single year since 2008, and the second highest since 1957.
The spike is even more impressive considering the effect of Hurricane Sandy on ridership numbers on the East Coast, which has some of the most-used transit systems in the country. It is estimated that service outages during the storm and post-storm clean-up cost the system around 74 million trips. In addition, 80 percent of transit systems suffered through budget restraints that threatened or resulted in service cuts over the last year. Despite the setbacks, 16 different transit systems, representing every region of the country, set new records for transit ridership. For example, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority in Michigan and Sound Transit in Washington have seen some of the biggest increases in ridership over the last year.
With such a noticeable change in the nation’s transportation patterns, theories have emerged to explain the new shift towards public transit use. Affordability is one possible explanation. A lagging economy and high or fluctuating gas prices have pushed more people to use transit to save money on auto travel expenses. The country has also seen an ongoing shift in demographics.
Support for public transit has been strongest among the Baby Boomers, Millenials, and Empty-Nesters, as walkability and accessibility has become more important to our aging populations and those new to the job and real estate market. With these demographic groups making up roughly 150 million people, they are now a strong force in shaping the country’s transportation trends.