Mass Transit Ridership Is Up, and Stimulus Funds Promise More Public Transportation

In 2008, mass transit was all the rage. Ridership on buses, subways, and commuter trains added up to a whopping 10.7 billion transit trips—a 4 percent increase over 2007, the American Public Transportation Association announced today.

The boost is likely due to record gas prices in the first half of 2008 and job losses at the end of the year. Over that same period, Americans drove less.

APTA President William W. Millar says the increase clearly demonstrates that Americans want more public transit services. “These are investments that pay off for decades and decades to come,” he told The Washington Post.

Transit officials expect ridership to fall in the first quarter of 2009 because of the recession, but they’re hopeful they’ll see an influx of funds from stimulus spending.

Which leads us to President Obama’s initiative to fund high-speed rail, a scheme The Washington Post took a look at yesterday.

High-speed rail has emerged as the cornerstone of Obama's ambitious attempt to remake the nation's transportation agenda, which for half a century has focused primarily on building highways and roads. Nearly half of the $48 billion in stimulus money for transportation projects will go toward rail, buses and other non-highway projects, including $1.3 billion for Amtrak and its successful rapid rail service, Acela. The Transportation Department also would receive $2 billion more under Obama's proposed 2010 budget, most of it for rail and aviation improvements.

It’s a great start, but don’t expect to see a bullet train next year. What we will see is “much faster service for relatively little money,” says James P. RePass, president of the nonprofit rail advocacy group, National Corridors Initiative.

The article went on to say that the next step is doling out the funds. To do that, the Federal Railroad Administration is hammering out guidelines for the rail initiative over the next six weeks. The strongest candidates for funding are California, the Washington-New York-Boston corridor, and the network of rail lines around Chicago—the three areas with the most advanced plans for high-speed service.

Such projects could lessen the need for costly highway and airport expansions—cutting back on the fossil fuels burned by planes and cars. Finally, new strides that will help ensure our transportation infrastructure better aligns with what’s best for the environment.

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