Public transit ridership up in U.S. but down in Pittsburgh area
March 10, 2015 12:01 AM
If there was a silver lining in the statistics, ridership increased slightly after the first three months of 2014.
By Jon Schmitz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Use of public transit increased to record levels in the U.S. last year, but Port Authority ridership continued in the opposite direction.
Americans took 10.8 billion rides on public transit in 2014, the highest total in 58 years, the American Public Transportation Association reported on Monday. That was an increase of nearly 1 percent.
"Despite the steep decline in gas prices at the end of last year, public transit ridership increased,“ said Michael Melaniphy, the association’s president and CEO. ”This shows that once people start riding public transit, they discover that there are additional benefits besides saving money."
Port Authority ridership fell to 63.4 million, a decline of 1.26 percent. It was the fourth year in the past five that ridership fell, the exception being 2012, when the authority opened the North Shore Connector rail extension. Transit use here peaked in 1975, when the agency provided 109.6 million rides. Since then, it has decreased by 42 percent.
If there was a silver lining in the statistics, ridership increased slightly after the first three months of 2014, when bitter winter weather interrupted work schedules. Riders on their way to work account for about 60 percent of transit trips, the association said.
But last year also saw an end to robust growth in rail ridership that followed the debut of the extension. Light rail patronage was up by 14.7 percent in 2012 and 7.45 percent the following year, but fell by 1.9 percent in 2014.
Bus ridership, which accounts for the far majority of authority trips, fell by 1.1 percent last year. On-demand paratransit service fell 5.6 percent. The only transit mode showing an increase was incline ridership, up 1.59 percent.
“We’ve long known that people who turned away from our system due to years of cutting back would not return until we reinvested in the service we provide,” authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said. With additional state money provided by Act 89, the transportation funding measure approved in November 2013, the authority added trips on some of its overcrowded routes in September and since has seen a 2.7 percent growth in ridership on those routes, he said.
“Although our funding for service will remain limited going forward, we hope to continue making improvements that attract riders — former riders and new customers,” Mr. Ritchie said.
Minor adjustments will be made to service on 22 bus routes starting Sunday, as part of the agency’s quarterly schedule revisions. The changes will not provide substantial increases in service, but Mr. Ritchie said the agency is developing guidelines for adding service in the future.
The national association said several systems broke ridership records last year, including those in Boston, Columbus, Ohio, Denver, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Orlando, Fla., Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle and Tampa.
From 1995 to 2014, U.S. transit ridership increased by 39 percent, nearly double the U.S. population growth for that period, the association reported.
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