This is a boom time for one sector of the economy - public transportation. With gas prices stabilizing, I don't think there was an expectation that ridership would continue to increase. Furthermore, transit is used 60% of the time for work, and with so much job loss, you would expect ridership to go down. But it's expensive to maintain a car, and often cheaper just to take the bus.
Despite job losses and falling gasoline prices, record numbers of Americans rode subways, buses and commuter rail last year, boosting public transportation ridership to its highest level in 52 years, according to a survey to be released today by the American Public Transportation Association.
Advocates say the ridership figures show growing support for public transportation. They hope to use that support to push for federal funding beyond the $8.4 billion in stimulus money set aside for transit. More investment in transit not only helps the economy, advocacy groups say, but also helps the environment and fosters energy independence.
"Now, more than ever, the value of public transportation is evident, and the public has clearly demonstrated that they want and need more public transit services," said APTA President William W. Millar.
The looming problem is that tight state and municipal budgets may not be able to keep up with demand. Even successful transit operations aren't exactly money generators. Which is why federal money for operational costs, not just the $8.4 billion set aside for new capital spending, is needed.
In addition, this should convince everyone that high speed rail would be a massive success. Ridership is growing on transit even in the downturn, and by the time any HSR lines are built we should be out of the woods. It's a good time to start funding this now, when labor and material costs are relatively low. And of course, the savings in energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions would be tremendous. If Republicans are worrying about the Europeanization of America, maybe they're talking about the imclusion of actually decent rail services. They eschew convenience.