More People Rode Public Transit Last Year Than Any Time In The Last 60 Years

Is this the next step for a future of car-less cities?

More People Rode Public Transit Last Year Than Any Time In The Last 60 Years
[Image: Stockholm, Sweden subway connel /Shutterstock]

We’ve recently covered the news that more people are foregoing car ownership than ever before, so it would make sense that public transit is becoming more and more popular at the same time. Now there’s data to prove it.


The American Public Transportation Association’s latest figures, released today, show that more Americans used public transit in 2013 than at any time in nearly 60 years. That amounts to a whopping 10.65 billion passenger trips, beating the previous record in 1956 and a more recent peak in 2008, when gas cost more than $4 a gallon and 10.59 million trips were taken.

This time around high gas prices aren’t the main reason, and the trend is more about a basic shift in attitudes about how people travel in their cities, as well as a generally strong urban economy. Michael Melaniphy, president of the advocacy group, told the New York Times:

“Now gas is averaging well under $4 a gallon, the economy is coming back and people are riding transit in record numbers,” Mr. Melaniphy said in an interview. “We’re seeing a fundamental shift in how people are moving about their communities.”

From 1995 to 2013, transit ridership rose 37 percent, well ahead of a 20 percent growth in population and a 23 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled, according to the association’s data.

Cities should be paying attention, especially as many aim to attract young people to live and work in their borders. Young people traveling more often at “off-peak” times accounted for some of the increases seen over the last year, the New York Times reported. Public transit agencies reporting the biggest ridership increases included those in smaller cities, such as Ann Arbor, Michigan; Cleveland, Ohio; Flagstaff, Arizona; and Riverside, California.

These are all reasons for cities to invest more in subways, buses, and rail systems though that is sure to raise the hackles of dedicated drivers. It may pay to note, however, more than 70% of transit tax efforts succeeded in the last two years, according to the association.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.