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1.47 gallons for public transit

By enelson
Tuesday, March 13th, 2007 at 9:19 am in BART, Bay Bridge, Buses, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), Carpooling, connectivity, driving, Environment, parking, rail, Transit vs. driving.

pumping-gas.jpg 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.

————–Afterthought—————-

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.

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3 Responses to “1.47 gallons for public transit”

  1. Doug Faunt Says:

    “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.”

    Part of the problem here is that the assumption is made that you’ll be in a car, therefore situations are set up where a car is almost necessary.

    Last week, I was in that sort of situation, and because I arranged an alternative, was asked if I’d had my driving license revoked or suspended. I’ve also been asked if the motor vehicle I own is functioning, or if I can’t afford insurance.

  2. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Doug, I feel your pain. When I worked in LA and people noticed that I sometimes rode a bus, they treated me with pity, or as one might a crazy person. Luckily, in the circles I travel in these days, taking public transit or riding my bike to a meeting is pretty well-regarded. One of my colleagues arrived at yesterday’s event via BART, and I ended up driving him back to his office.

  3. david vartanoff Says:

    nice as the increased transit stats are, the local picture is far from rosy. Although BART set a Saturday record, and their daily figures are improving, Muni has LOST 90,000+ over the last five years. This is a real sign of disaster as Muni operates 24/7, comes very close to most homes/businesses in SF, and in theory offers a real alternative in a fairly dense city with many likely short trips. The problem of course is that the buses and trolley coaches DON’T show up! BTW the Cable Cars even at their ripoff $5 have not lost many riders.

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