U.S. Transit Ridership Increased 4% in 2008

In 2008, people in America saved 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline by riding transit in record numbers, according to a new report by Environment America. 

The amount saved is equal to that consumed by 7.2 million cars in a year.

“People are voting with their feet by driving less and taking more public transportation,” said Rob McCulloch, Environment America Transportation Advocate. “Congress should listen to these voters and invest more in public transportation, which will increase our energy independence and reduce global warming pollution,” McCulloch added.

“Getting On Track: Record Transit Ridership Increases Energy Independence” explains that transportation is responsible for more than two-thirds of the nation’s dependence on oil, and about one-third of carbon dioxide pollution.

In the U.S., last year annual transit ridership increased 4%, and many agencies are seeing continued growth in 2009, according to the report. Washington D.C. transit ridership grew by 4.5% in the first quarter of 2009, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

“Metro and transit-oriented development are success stories for the Washington region and offer an excellent national example of the benefits of transit,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Increased transit ridership offers other benefits as well, to include reduced congestion, fewer hours stuck in traffic, reductions in smog and soot pollution and money saved by households regularly taking transit.

“Aside from the energy savings and reduction in climate change-causing carbon emissions, Metro and our other transit services offer greater travel choices and save families money,” Schwartz said. According to APTA, a two-person household can save up to $9,167 a year by living with one less car.

In addition to fuel savings and reduced commuting costs, public transportation reduced global warming pollution in the U.S. by 37 million tons in 2008.

In order to maximize public transportation potential to save energy and reduce pollution, Environment America is asking local, state, and federal leaders to:

  • Issue overarching goals for reducing oil dependence and pollution through transportation, which will guide better policy.
  • Increase investment in cleaner public transportation, to include transit, high speed rail, and better walking and biking options.
  • Level the playing field in terms of funding and approving transit projects, relative to road projects. Approval of transit and highway investments should be governed by an equivalent set of rules and matching ratios.
  • Increase funding for transit maintenance and day-to-day operations, in addition to improving and expanding capacity. Federal, state and local funds should allow for greater flexibility in funding operations–new buses and trains are useless without drivers to drive them and mechanics to maintain them.

In the near term, Environment America is calling on Congress to incorporate the full provisions of CLEAN TEA (the Clean, Low Emissions, Affordable New Transportation Equity Act, S. 575 ), into the climate bill being debated now in the Senate. CLEAN TEA would direct 10% of climate bill allowances to clean transportation efforts that will save oil and reduce emissions.

"When we rely on oil, we rely on unstable and hostile regimes,” said Alex Cornell du Houx, Representative of the Truman National Security Project. “When we rely on ourselves–which includes creating effective transit systems–we break that dependence and enhance our own security,” du Houx added.

The report is available at the link below.

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