Perfect Logic—Why Both Drivers and Transit Users Support Public Transportation

By: Darnell Grisby, Director of Policy Development and Research
American Public Transportation Association

Darnell Grisby

In a recent City Lab blog post, Eric Jaffe asked the question, “If So Many People Support Transit, Why Do So Few Ride?” While it is interesting for policy wonks to analyze voter intent and question their collective wisdom, a deeper analysis proves that voters seem to at least have a firm grasp on mobility issues. Jaffe’s assessment needs further discussion on three points. First, the nature of highway and public transit network coverage; second, the impact of funding decisions on ridership; and third, the nature of both economic and spatial development in the United States.

Highway vs. Public Transportation Coverage
The statistic that five percent of all Americans use public transportation is often quoted on a regular basis. However, while America is known for having a well distributed road network that provides access for nearly all Americans, our public transportation network is not available to millions of Americans. In fact, according to the 2009 Census, 45 percent of American households have NO access to any public transportation. The 55% of American households that do have access to public transit still do not universally have access to frequent public transportation service that would allow them to take public transportation for a higher percentage of trips. Of course, this issue comes down to funding.

Impact of Funding Decisions on Ridership
Jarrett Walker, in his landmark book Human Transit, sums up a conundrum. Can and should a community provide the frequent service on a handful of routes that would allow mode shift in a few corridors or should they provide coverage service that provides a lifeline, but at lower frequencies? Often communities find it fiscally difficult to do both well, and therefore the real solution to the coverage vs. ridership quandary is more funding. In fact, funding is also a key to addressing the spatial development of the American landscape.

Economic and Spatial Development
Many cities in the US are multi-nucleic, which means as public transit networks are expanded and new centers are connected, prior mode share plateaus will be broken. In fact, Los Angeles, a city noted in Jaffe’s piece is a case in point. New extensions of Los Angeles’ rail system will reach some of the highest density employment and residential areas on the west coast. These connections will make the entire transit system more useful to more people. Clearly, drawing early conclusions, seems to contradict the realities on the ground.

Therefore, it is perfectly logical for voters to support public transportation investments, not only because of the community benefits but because voters seek a transportation system that is more useful for themselves personally. When voters understand the community benefits of public transportation, even if they do not themselves ride, voters are in fact aiming for a transportation system that provides increased mobility options.

More Than Two-Thirds of Americans Support Increased Federal Investment in Public Transportation

By: Chad Chitwood, Program Manager-Advocacy Communications
American Public Transportation Association


As Congress gets into full swing after the August recess, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) released a survey that shows the number of Americans that support increasing federal public transportation investment grew to nearly 68 percent. This represents a nearly two point increase over last year. The survey, which was conducted by the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) for APTA, also found that nearly 74 percent of Americans support the use of tax dollars for creating, expanding, and improving public transportation options in their communities.

Seventy six percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement that public transportation investment can help create jobs and pave the way to a stronger economy. When asked about the affordable transportation options for people, nearly 88 percent of respondents agreed that public transit expands opportunities and provides access to new jobs and careers as well as to medical care, schools, and colleges.

The survey by MTI was a result of 1,503 telephone interviews with individuals across the United States and the margin of error is minus 2.53 percentage points, at the 95 percent confidence level.

How Much Can You Save? The Latest Transit Savings Report.

By: Chad Chitwood, Program Manager Advocacy Communications
American Public Transportation Association

Living with one less car in your household can really add up to big savings. You would be surprised how much the yearly tally is when you think about payments, insurance, gas, mileage, and maintenance.

The August APTA Transit Savings Report finds that you can save $10,064 per year on average if you live with one less car and $839 per month.

How Millennial Are Your Local Travel Habits?

By: Chad Chitwood, Program Manager, Advocacy Communications
American Public Transportation Association

Bike Riders College Park 051512-21

Do you travel like a millennial or are your local travel habits a generation behind today’s travel trends? The American Public Transportation Association has created a new online quiz based on recent research on how the millennial generation gets around town. The “How Millennial are Your Local Travel Habits” online quiz compares the quiz participant’s local travel habits to this tech-savvy 18-34 year old generation.

The millennial generation, those born between 1982 and 2004, are the largest generation in history and the most diverse. This generation is having a great impact on today’s and tomorrow’s local transportation system. Millennials are also living through times of economic dislocation and technological change. The combination of technological change, such as the advent of smartphone technology combined with macro forces, shapes how millennials get around and how local transportation systems deliver service to this generation.

Find out how your local travel habits compare to the millennial generation by taking the quiz. Share your results on twitter using #millennialtransit. Click here to access the quiz.

Rail Expansion from East to (South)West

By: Mantill Williams-Director of Advocacy Communications
American Public Transportation Association

Mantill Williams

In late July—just one day apart—two new major American public transportation operations got underway. On Friday, July 25, an estimated 17,000 passengers enjoyed an inaugural ride on the Sun Link—the brand new streetcar system in Tucson, Arizona. And a day later, on July 26, 32,000 Washington-area residents and visitors rode the DC Metro’s new Silver Line—the first entirely new line to be added to the DC rail system since 1991.

In both cities, there is clearly a strong demand for public transportation. Washington has notoriously congested roadways, and Dulles International Airport cannot be accessed by Metro rail.

Tucson is growing rapidly and has seen per capita public transit ridership grow by 25 percent over the last five years. With these changes, the city needed improved public transit options that would reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.

Public Transportation Benefits Two Very Different Cities

To put it mildly, Washington and Tucson are very different cities. The Washington metropolitan area—the 7th most populous in the U.S.—is home to nearly 6 million people, and it draws commuters from the Baltimore area, which includes another 2.7 million people. In addition, Washington attracts several million visitors every year, many of whom get around town using public transportation.

In contrast, the Tucson area, with about 1 million people, is the 53rd-largest metropolitan area in the nation. The city has a densely populated central corridor that stretches four miles and takes in the University of Arizona (UA) and downtown.

For Tucson, a new streetcar line makes perfect sense. Nearly 100,000 people live within a quarter-mile of the Sun Link route, and many other residents can access the streetcar system via Sun Tran buses. Sun Link contributes to the livability of the city and improves access to services, jobs, and the UA campus. Already, since the Sun Link service was announced, a remarkable $1.5 billion has been invested in housing, offices, restaurants, and retail long the streetcar’s route.

While the Washington Metro has operated since 1976, service did not reach residents in parts of northern Virginia. In addition, the inability to access Dulles airport via the Metro added challenges—and headaches—for visitors and residents alike. The Silver Line now reaches several area suburbs and will eventually provide access to Dulles when the second phase of the new route is completed in 2018.

United by Federal Support

In spite of their differences, Tucson’s Sun Link and the Metro Silver Line are united by federal support. Sun Link received nearly $83 million in federal funding, about 42 percent of the total cost of the project. Silver Line construction was supported by $900 million in federal funding. While local funding is crucial for public transportation projects, federal support is undeniably instrumental for such large-scale projects.

Other cities and communities—including yours!—should have similar opportunities to launch or expand local public transportation systems. But for American public transportation to serve a greater cross-section of our nation—including suburbs, small towns, and rural areas—we need a new era of federal government support for public transit. More and more people are using public transportation today—the most since the 1950s—and our nation’s transportation policies must support this sea change in how Americans are getting around.

Delivering Economic Opportunities through Public Transportation and the Critical State of Current Funding

By: Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)

SRM headshot

This guest blog post on the APTA blog highlights the 50th anniversary of the Urban Mass Transportation Act, which was first signed into law in 1964.

In 1964, the Urban Mass Transportation Act was signed into law, demonstrating America’s commitment to investing in our nation’s infrastructure and providing affordable, safe and accessible transportation for all citizens. Setting a precedent for its time, the law provided capital grants to match local investments and created a regulatory body to provide oversight, evolving into what we now know as the Federal Transit Administration.

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Urban Mass Transportation Act, it’s clear that public transportation has become an important economic engine in today’s society – creating jobs, connecting communities and driving productivity.

Just last week, I was in Jersey City remarking how the area had turned around from an abandoned downtown to a thriving destination full of economic and cultural activity. New construction and renovation projects are popping up all over, largely attributed to the importance of access to the Hudson Bergen Light Rail.

That’s just one example of the economic hubs that public transportation access creates across our nation. The American Public Transportation Association says that for every dollar a community invests in public transportation, approximately four dollars are generated in economic returns. And these returns benefit all members of the community—whether they ride public transit or not—in the form of thriving town centers, less traffic congestion, and successful businesses.

As lines are extended or new systems are built, construction crews and system teams are hired into new jobs. For every $1 billion spent annually on public transportation capital projects, 15,900 jobs are created. Furthermore, the ongoing management and maintenance of these structures supports an additional 1.1 million jobs each year.

Public transportation also connects employees to businesses and consumers to markets. For every $10 million in capital investment in public transportation, there is $30 million in increased business sales. Just like Jersey City, we’re continually seeing revitalized or new neighborhoods pop up around public transportation hubs with busy restaurants, profitable shops and an increased demand for office space.

Expanded public transportation infrastructure is also a positive catalyst for productivity, allowing riders to easily travel from one area to another and providing businesses with broader access to diverse labor markets. Take a ride on a train today and you’ll see people on their laptops, phones and tablet devices, managing their day-to-day work flow and tackling projects at the start and end of their days.

But despite all the clear benefits, one of public transit’s major funding sources, the Highway Trust Fund, is on track to run out of money soon, as early as the end of July by many estimates.

As Congress is now tasked with passing comprehensive funding for public transportation, our constituents are sending a clear message: they want transit. Ridership on public transportation is up nationwide – with 10.7 billion trips taken last year. And polling research continually shows that Millennials, the generation set to lead America into the future, are demonstrating a preference for public transportation.

Without a clear path to sustained funding, public transportation providers will have no choice but to make major budget cuts, decrease existing route options, limit needed refurbishment work, and hold off on investments in new projects. Current funding levels are completely inadequate to build and maintain world-class transit infrastructure. Our constituents and our communities deserve better.

Any plan for sustained economic growth in a community requires a solid public transportation solution. The Urban Mass Transportation Act took a significant step in that direction by putting a plan in place to invest in our nation’s public transportation infrastructure. As we look to the next 50 years, it’s critical that we continue that leadership through passing a strong funding bill for public transportation and building connected communities for the next generation.

Driverless Cars – How Will Public Transportation Be Affected?

By: Matt Dickens, APTA Policy Analyst
Matt Dickens

The 50th anniversary of the Urban Mass Transportation Act (UMTA) is coming up in July. With that legislation, the federal government embarked on an important partnership with our nation’s public transit agencies to preserve and improve public transportation service across the country. The public transportation industry has come a long way in those 50 years, and major technological advancements continue to be part of that progress.

Self-driving cars have been in the news again recently, as Google released a design for a new self-driving vehicle with no manual controls. Some have suggested that we need to start rethinking transportation planning now so we can anticipate a future in which self-driving cars are widespread and in heavy use. However, self-driving car technology has the potential to make public transportation more important to a larger percentage of people.

Like many other technologies that are now ubiquitous, self-driving car technology will take many years to mature and enter widespread use. As regular consumers adopt self-driving technology, so too will public transportation agencies. Take hybrid vehicle technology, for example. In 2004, less than 1% of public transportation buses used hybrid technology, but by 2013 over 13% of those buses were hybrids. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, only around 1% of light-duty vehicles are hybrids. It seems likely that self-driving technology will be adopted by public transportation agencies, possibly more quickly than they are adopted by the general public. As a result, public transportation agencies will reap early benefits.

Self-driving cars even have the potential to make public transportation more important to more people. Some future views of self-driving cars promise that people will be able to hail an autonomous taxi at a moment’s notice, and that this will make individual car ownership less important. If these developments do happen and owning a car for off-peak trips is less important, then more households may choose to become car-free or car-light households. This will encourage more use of alternative transportation like public transportation, walking, and biking, and will likely lead to more people using those alternative modes for their peak-period travel.

Even with self-driving cars in the mix, public transportation will still be essential to peak-period travel. Public transportation running in dedicated rights-of-way will still be likely to carry more passengers per hour than even self-driving cars. If public transportation agencies adopt self-driving technology, dedicating lanes to public transportation will provide even higher capacity returns on city streets than under current conditions. Automatic acceleration and deceleration will provide a smoother and more fuel-efficient ride for public transportation passengers.

New self-driving car technology is exciting and holds a lot of promise for the future of our transportation system. Public transportation agencies will be adopting pieces of this technology as well so that riders and non-riders alike can benefit. The continuation of a strong federal partnership will ensure that for the next 50 years, public transportation will be as strong or stronger as the 50 years since UMTA.