Growth in transit use outpaces increase in highway travel

By Jonathan D. Salant The Associated Press
Thursday April 18, 2002

WASHINGTON — More Americans are commuting on buses, subways and trains, new statistics show. 

The American Public Transportation Association, the trade group for municipal transit agencies, reported Wednesday that mass transit systems carried 9.5 billion passengers last year, up 2 percent over the 9.3 billion trips reported a year ago. 

At the same time, motorists drove 2.78 trillion miles in 2001, up 1 percent over the 2.75 trillion miles driven in 2000, Federal Highway Administration statistics show. 

In California, the increase in transit use was nearly 6 percent. 

“Americans want choice and freedom, and in places where transit service is improving, they are often choosing the bus or the train over their own car,” said David Burwell, president of the Surface Transportation Policy Project, a coalition of public interest and professional organizations that supports alternatives to building new roads. 

An official with The Road Information Program, a research group financed by the construction industry, noted that most travel is still by car. 

“The majority of surface transportation is taking place on our nation’s highways,” TRIP Executive Director William Wilkins said. “Both modes would be hurt if federal funding were cut.” 

President Bush’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 would cut federal highway funds by $8.6 billion. 

More people are riding the rails or traveling by bus now than at any time since 1959, when 9.6 billion trips were recorded. 

Transit officials said they are reaping the benefits of government investment in new routes and equipment. Los Angeles reported a 15 percent increase in ridership, while Denver had a 6.7 percent increase and the Washington area had an increase of 5.9 percent. 

Between 1995 and 2001, mass transit ridership grew 22 percent, from 7.8 billion trips, while highway travel grew by 16 percent, from 2.4 trillion miles.