New York City / MTA subway map. 
New York City / MTA subway map.  - 
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Last year, Americans used public transportation to take 10.7 billion trips. According to the American Public Transportation Association, ridership hasn’t been that high since 1956.

“It’s truly a fundamental shift in how people are moving about their communities,” says Michael Melaniphy, the group’s president and CEO, noting the growth started several years ago. “Initially, when fuel prices spiked, it drove people to transit, and once they came, they decided it was good, and they stayed.”

There is a correlation, Melaniphy says, between high ridership and the health of the U.S. economy. Sixty percent of trips taken on public transit are work commutes.

However, Mitchell Moss*, who directs the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University, argues the other 40 percent is also important: 

“Mass transit today is not just a peak-hour activity,” he says. As public transportation becomes more popular, and as cities spend more money on expanding it, transit systems are opening earlier and closing later.

“There was a time when you said, ‘I want to live near a good school district,’” Moss says. “Today, people want to live near a good transit connection.”

Moss is referring to young people especially, who are ever less likely to own cars.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management. He is Mitchell Moss. The text has been corrected.

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Follow David Gura at @davidgura