Americans Are Using Transit More Than Any Time in Nearly 60 Years

Transit use seems to be up across the board

Derek Key

America's love affair with the car is finally running out of gas. The American auto industry may be doing well, but auto ownership rates are sliding. Even if cars are on their way out, though, cities are still built with abundant urban sprawl, and people still need to get around. And the country's mass transit system, it seems, is picking up the slack.

According to a new report from the American Public Transportation Association, subway, elevated rail, train, light rail and bus use are all up in the studied districts (17 urban centers of varying sizes from across the contiguous U.S.). In 2013, the association says, some 10.7 billion trips were made on transit systems across the study area.

The number of trips taken is the highest since 1956. In July 1956, however, the U.S. population was just shy of 169 million. By 2013 it had nearly doubled, increasing by around 88 percent to 317 million. So, 10.65 billion trips in 2013 isn't nearly as impressive as a similar number in 1956. But, says the New York Times, after a strong late-century dip, the real story is the rise in transit use that's been outpacing shorter-term population growth.

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.

The Guardian attributes the recent growth in transit use to improvements to the transit system, while the Times says it could also be a consequence of increasing urbanization and changing preferences. Other potential reasons could include increasing environmental awareness, or that cars are outside of the realm of economic possibility for many younger workers.

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