Public transportation records, at least for the last half-century, continue to be broken on a regular basis these days. BART had its best Saturday ever this month with the celebration of the Year of the Pig and it seems more and more difficult to find two seats to myself on the train these days (not that I’d ever block the #2 seat — I hate it when people do that on a train that’s getting crowded).
Today I was not surprised to learn that national ridership is up to levels not seen since 1957, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Americans took 10.1 billion bus, train and ferry trips in 2006, as APTA explains:
Over the last decade, public transportation’s growth rate outpaced the growth rate of the population and the growth rate of vehicle miles traveled on our nation’s highways.
“This significant ridership milestone is part of a multi-year trend as more and more Americans ride public transit to get to destinations important to them, while realizing the benefits of saving money and avoiding congestion,” said William W. Millar, president of APTA. “Public transit ridership helps reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil and decreases our contribution to global warming; but ultimately, this milestone represents 10 billion reasons to increase local and federal investment in public transportation.”
Public transit use is up 30 percent since 1995. That is more than double the growth rate of the population (12 percent) and higher than the growth rate for the vehicle miles traveled on our roads (24 percent) during that same period. In 2006, public transit ridership grew 2.9 percent over 2005. To put the 10.1 billion public transportation trips in perspective, transit trips outnumber domestic airline trips by 15-to-1.
Although APTA would like this to be a sign that Americans are embracing the idea that public transportation is a better way to get around, most reasonable assessments point the finger squarely at gas prices. I paid five bucks for less than a gallon and a half of gas in San Francisco yesterday, so it didn’t challenge my primitive math skills to figure out that I would have been happier taking BART on most such trips.
If this nation is to look more like Europe (and there are many who shudder at the thought) or the rest of the developed world, with convenient and quick transit reaching most urbanized areas, it’s going to require more frequent and deeper painful realizations like my trip to the 5th Street Shell Station.
Either I’m an idiot or there was a reason for driving over the Bay Bridge and fretting over parking yesterday. I was in a hurry, and public transit connections would have slowed me down, especially considering that it was 10 a.m. and the bridge was only mildly backed up. I also had to follow a group of cars, which would have been difficult on a bus or on foot. Now I’ve done this before and hitched a ride with Caltrans on these Bay Bridge construction tours, but that’s not always possible in other work situations. I.e., cars give us more flexibility, and that’s difficult to set aside.
On the way home last night, my empty tank light came on again, only this time I found an Arco station in Pinole with $3.05 regular, and I felt like I had found a bargain, even with the 45-cent debit card fee.
The bottom line in yesterday’s equation was that I needed to be somewhere fast, and even though that somewhere was the Transbay Terminal, a car was my best bet. The fact that Caltrans provided free parking made the trip financially sensible as well (if you don’t count my contribution to global warming destroying the Bay Area’s economy).
Luckily for transit advocates, the world’s oil consumption promises to keep driving gas prices upward, so that even places like Los Angeles are likely to see a renaissance of car-less commuting.
In my zeal to remind people the realities that make people drive, I blocked out some recent evidence of the limitations of the automobile: On my way to Friday’s Caltrans event noting highway project funding and progress, I realized, as I was inching eastward at 2:30 p.m. on I-580, that I could have taken BART from Oakland with my bike, gotten off at Dublin/Pleasanton, and pedaled the last three miles and saved 20 minutes or so.