Here’s some good green news: more and more Americans are taking public transit and are ditching their gas-guzzling cars for more fuel efficient models, or getting rid of their cars all together. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), transit ridership nationwide shot up by 5% over the first quarter of 2012, with an increase of 2.7 billion trips. This number has steadily increased over the past five quarters, specifically for bus and rail. Interestingly, APTA noted that …”even when gas prices start to fall, riders stick with transit.”
So, what’s going on? This data is clearly indicative of deep behavioral change and the APTA report mentions that this commuter shift isn’t merely a knee jerk reaction to high gas prices, but a more intrinsic switch in how Americans perceive and ultimately use public transportation. And it’s not just major cities like New York and Chicago that are feeling the effects. Smaller and medium-sized cities like Ann Arbor, MI, Charlotte, NC and San Diego, CA are also seeing transit numbers go up and stay up.
One reason taking transit may be growing in popularity is that it enables the passenger to “turn off” and instead take a nap, focus on a book or check email while en route to their destination. After all, commutes today are some of the longest in history. Taking public transportation also opens up social opportunities; it’s possible to make a new friend or meet your future spouse while on a train or bus. None of this is possible if that same person is driving solo.
To add to this trend, younger Americans, particularly those aged 35 and below, are driving less in general, falling 23% between 2001 and 2009, and in some cases are foregoing the drivers license altogether. Apparently, driving is no longer viewed as the ultimate “freedom” it once was; cars are instead viewed as a main source of economic hassle and environmental damage.
Cars also cost more than just the gas put into them — the annual maintenance, general upkeep, parking fees and insurance can hit the wallet hard. In the city of San Francisco, for example, the cost of simply fueling your car today can cost you upwards of $3,000 a year (based on a U.S. Department of Energy calculation estimating $4 per gallon, driving 15,000 miles per year at 20 mpg). On the contrary, you can take public transportation and get around the city on MUNI for an annual grand total of just $768.
Still, not every American lives in an urban center where public transportation is an option and if that’s the case for you, car-share, carpooling or driving a fuel efficient vehicle is something to consider. If there are enough people in your community who demand public transit options, local governments will have to pay attention, even if it means putting in a simple bus line. In the end, there are always ways to be creative, save money and help the planet at the same time; it merely takes effort to get those programs implemented. After all, taking the APTA figures into account, it looks like Americans are itching for a major transportation overhaul that could have sweeping impacts for our health and our planet.
Photo Credit: AlNo