Mass transit on the rise, even before high gas prices

Commuters jam Grand Central Station heading to catch mass transit trains in New York City.

Jeremy Hobson: New figures out this morning find more Americans are using public transportation to get around. The American Public Transportation Association says transit ridership around the country is at its second highest level since the 1950s. Ridership jumped 2.3 percent last year.

For more on what's behind this, let's bring in the president of the American Public Transportation Association, Michael Melaniphy. Good morning.

Michael Melaniphy: Good morning.

Hobson: So is this increase just gas prices, is that what it is?

Melaniphy: Gas prices is certainly a big driver of it but it’s also the economy is coming back. People are taking transit to jobs and they’re using new electronic apps to find out when the next bus and train is coming -- so it’s three pieces that are making more people ride transit today.

Hobson: Now, I can see how an increase in public transit can happen in a place like New York or Washington or Chicago where they have a big existing transit system. Is this being seen in other cities around the country?

Melaniphy: We’re seeing it across the country. In fact, in small cities with populations under 100,000, the ridership increase rate was more than 5 percent. That doubled the national average.

Hobson: So how do you get politicians to keep up with this increase in ridership and invest more in public transit?

Melaniphy: Well that’s the amazing statistic. Transit systems, just like you and I at home, they’ve been hit hard by the economy and they’ve had to do service reductions and fare increases. At the same time, we’ve seen this ridership increase. So can you imagine what the ridership would look like if we didn’t have those service cuts and fare increases? It would be incredible.

People are using transit every day, whether it’s -- there are no Republican or Democratic transportation networks in this country. And they can see that people are flocking to public transportation. It’s safe, it’s dependable, it’s economical, and it’s the right thing to do.

Hobson: Michael Melaniphy is president and CEO of the American Public Transit Association. Thanks so much for talking with us.

Melaniphy: Thanks very much, Jeremy. Have a great day.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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