Transit’s Up, Driving’s Down: Have We Reached the Tipping Point? by Robert Dunphy(This is an excerpt from commentary on ULI’s blog, The Ground Floor.)
Transit use is up, and driving is down—have we reached a tipping point where Americans finally renounce their love affair with the car and adopt more sustainable transportation? The latest national travel data show that transit ridership—spiked in part by the run-up in gas prices earlier this year—continued to grow despite the precipitous decrease in prices at the pump. Transit ridership reached 2.8 billion trips in the third quarter, a 6.5 percent jump from the same period last year. During the same period, driving continued to decline, not quite as much as during the summer, but a still-significant 4.5 percent.So, with both driving and transit heading in the right direction from a sustainability perspective, how do they compare in absolutes? Not very close, unfortunately. The number of transit trips increased by 174 million in the quarter, so the total miles traveled by those riders, using a standard five miles for the average trip distance, comes to an increase of 876 million—just under a billion passenger miles. The vehicle miles of travel (VMTs) for the same period, for all types of vehicles, including trucks, declined by 35.5 billion. That would put transit’s share of the decline in driving at a mere 2.5 percent.A July survey conducted by NuStats found that, indeed, two out of three respondents reported driving less, but largely by combining trips, eliminating trips altogether, and working from home. The use of public transit as a replacement for driving ranked behind combining and eliminating trips, using a more fuel-efficient car, working from home, using toll roads to save gas, and carpooling.The survey suggests that the greatest potential for reduced driving lies not in expanding public transit to serve new riders, but to focus growth in areas where it supports established transit, and where residents have options for shorter trips, combining trips, and walking, as well as public transit.
[posted by Greg Trimmer]