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Public Transportation Ridership Is On The Rise

There’s good news in the world of public transportation ridership for the first time in quite a while.

Passengers took 2.5 billion trips on public transportation in the U.S. during the second quarter of 2019 — an increase of 11 million over a year prior, a new report from the American Public Transportation Association finds.

This report marks the first instance of public transportation ridership increasing instead of declining from year to year since early 2016, Here & Now’s transportation analyst Seth Kaplan says.

“Ridership is still down from where it was several years back,” he says, “but finally, an uptick after several years of decline as well as some cities saw really dramatic jumps.”

The New York City subway saw a 2.5% increase, and Kaplan says that’s significant considering ridership was down 3.5% a year prior.

Atlanta’s transit system is up a mere 0.1%, despite falling 7% over the same period in 2018.

“We’ll have to see here in coming quarters if that was just a blip or finally a bottoming out of what had been a bad trend for several years,” he says.

Some cities are investing in their transit systems, he says, despite efforts to discourage government investment in public transportation — like the national push by the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity group.

Opponents of these investments say that improving public transportation costs a lot of money and helps few people, but Kaplan rebuttals that private transit options like Uber and Lyft have so far required billions of dollars in subsidies from loss-tolerant investors.

If Uber and Lyft had to raise fares to improve their profitability, that could be a good thing for mass transit, he says.

Some of the most striking numbers in the report show commuter rail ridership is rising — and fast. Trips on the Florida Sunrail increased by 84.5%, and the Denver Regional Transportation District saw a 29.2% increase, too.

Kaplan says these dramatic spikes come from extensions that allow these systems to serve more passengers.

“There’s no question that when you build it, they come,” he says. “When you lay new miles of track or when you add new buses, ridership increases.”

Cassady Rosenblum produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Boston's Orange Line train. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston's Orange Line train. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)