Ridership on the nation's public transportation systems has risen 25% since 1995 and has been further spurred recently by high fuel prices, according to William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
He said he believes the trend will continue, and outlined other emerging trends in remarks May 25 at a Washington, D.C.-based luncheon group, The Road Gang.
"People ride transit to either make money, or spend money," he said.
According to figures for 2005, Millar said 9.7 billion riders used U.S. public transportation systems, a 1.3% increase over 2004. It was the highest number of transit passengers in 47 years, Millar said, and more would have taken public transit if strikes in New York City and Philadelphia had not occurred.
Part of the transit and highway relationship begins with the high percentage of trips taken on buses. Sixty percent of transit trips are on bus systems, while 38% are on rail, whose share has grown by 3 percentage points since 1995.
From 1995-2005, APTA says transit ridership rose 25%, while travel on highways rose 22.5%. Across the country, Millar said, transit systems are opening up in medium-sized cities and growing metropolitan regions in the South and West. In Minneapolis, he said, the Hiawatha light-rail transit system is already at its estimated ridership levels for 2020. Last year, voters supported ballot initiatives 84% of the time when it involved maintaining or raising local taxes for public transportation improvements.
As the U.S. population, gas prices and congestion continue to rise; Millar said these factors create an environment for transit and highway partnerships. He reminded the audience that highways and transit became linked in 1982, when 1 cent of federal fuel tax collections were dedicated toward transit. Today, 2.86 cents from the Highway Trust Fund goes into the Mass Transit Account.
Commenting on the U.S. Department of Transportation's recently announced National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America's Transportation Network, Millar said more public transportation options need to be included.
Financing the future of the system will be critical and Millar urged the highway and transit communities to jointly follow the progress of the Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, which convened for the first time last week. The 12-member federal commission is tasked with studying the current conditions and future needs of the surface transportation system; the future of the Interstate system; short and long-term sources of revenue, as well as other sources of funds for the next 30 years.
The application of Intelligent Transportation Systems to integrate and manage different modes more effectively is another partnership area, Millar said. "No single mode serves all needs the best," he said.
Context-sensitive solutions should also be a part of highway and transit projects, in addition to including multi-modal features in street and highway design, such as bus turnarounds, and directional and information signage.
Millar also contemplated the future of public-private partnerships and how transit and the highway community can partner in these relationships. "I hear a lot about ready cash, but I don't hear a lot about the public interest," Millar said of the spate of public-private partnership proposals.
"This is not a time for transit and highways to separate. It's also not a time for stovepipes," Millar concluded.