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[Photo: L. Henry]


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USA's Light Rail Systems Show Spectacular Ridership Growth in Third Quarter 2005, as All Transit Outstrips VMT

Light Rail Now Project Team · April 2006

With strong ridership growth of 8.8%, America's light rail transit (LRT) systems continued their record of a spectacular growth rate in the third quarter of 2005, according to a recent report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) [Media Release, 25 January 2006]. The 2005 third quarter report indicates that all types of public transportation tallied ridership increases – which APTA attributes to some extent to the spike in motor fuel costs. "With high gas prices in the third quarter of 2005, national transit ridership grew by 3.3% from the same period in 2004..." states APTA's release.

And this increase in public transit ridership occurred while motor vehicle travel fell! "At the same time that transit ridership was increasing during the 2005 third quarter," reports APTA, "Americans parked their cars and vehicle miles of travel (VMT) decreased by 0.2%, according to the Federal Highway Administration statistics." in addition, says APTA, the trend seems to have lasted at least for a while – a recent survey it conducted of transit systems indicates that "this growing ridership trend continued in November, despite a drop in gas prices that month."

"The increased ridership results of the third quarter, combined with the November ridership increases, indicate that more and more Americans want other options besides the automobile" said APTA President Bill Millar. "Transit ridership was on the move in 2005 and I fully expect that it will continue to grow as more people discover the convenience and affordability of public transportation."

Light rail showed the largest increase by far, soaring an average of 8.8%. Some LRT systems with larger increases than the national average are shown in the list below.

Light Rail Transit
· Minneapolis (Metro) – 70.9%
· Tampa (TECO Line) – 22.1%
· Sacramento (RT) – 18.2%
· Los Angeles (MTA) – 15.9%
· San Diego (Trolley) – 15.1%
· Houston (Metro) – 14.8%
· New Jersey (NJT) – 14.1%

HBLRT Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Transit system in northern New Jersey, opened in 2000, has grown steadily. Here a train arrives at the Liberty State Park station.
[Photo: L. Henry]

Regional passenger rail ("commuter rail") showed the second-highest national ridership increase for the 2005 third quarter – an average growth rate of 4.6%. Individual ridership increases exceeding that average were experienced in a number of areas, including the following.

Regional Passenger Rail
· Chesterton, in (South Shore line) – 10.4%
· Philadelphia (SEPTA Regional Rail) – 9.9%
· Harrisburg (Keystone) – 8.9%
· San Carlos, Ca (Caltrain) – 7.9%
· New Jersey (NJT) – 6.7%
· Los Angeles (Metrolink) – 5.7%

Heavy rail rapid transit (subway-elevated ) lines across the USA averaged a 4.3% increase Some particularly large increases in rapid rail ridership were experienced in the following localities:

Rail Rapid Transit
· Cleveland (RTA) – 7.8%
· Los Angeles (MTA) – 7.7%
· Philadelphia (SEPTA) – 7.6%
· Boston (MBTA) – 7.3%
· Washington (Metrorail) – 6.3%
· Chicago (CTA) – 6.2%
· Jersey City (Port Authority of NY/NJ) – 5.4%
· Staten island (SIRTA) – 5.0%

LA Red Line Los Angeles's new Red Line metro has seen a steep 7.7% increase in ridership. Here, a Red Line train rolls into the Vermont-Beverly subway station.
[Photo: Eric Haas]

Other types of public transportation also showed significant increases.

Other Modes (National Averages)
· Bus – 2.5%
· Demand Response – 3.2%
· Trolleybus – 0.2%

Some of the best major bus system gains were seen in Philadelphia (SEPTA), with 9.5%, followed by Dallas (DART) with 8.3%, and then Saint Louis (Metro) with 6.9%.

As previously noted, APTA recently conducted a survey of 86 large and small US transit agencies regarding November ridership figures to see if ridership trends were continuing, even as gas prices declined. Some 88% of the surveyed agencies reported that transit ridership continued at higher rates than a year earlier, despite the fact that motor fuel prices went down in November. In some places, transit systems reported increases at a double-digit rate.

Light Rail Now! website
Updated 2006/04/04

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