Public Transportation is Strong and Could Be Stronger with More Investment

By: Darnell Grisby, John Neff, and Matt Dickens- American Public Transportation Association Policy and Research Department

Dart Orange Line

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Professors David King, Michael Manville, and Michael Smart criticize APTA’s annual ridership report that showed public transportation ridership reached its highest level since 1956. The three professors have written much about public transportation in their respective research, but in this instance they made omissions in their analysis, and mischaracterized the findings of the report.

The professors state that public transit ridership was outpaced by population growth from 2008 to 2013, resulting in a decrease in per capita public transit ridership. Their analysis misses an obvious confounding factor– the Great Recession and its subsequent impact on job growth. Employment levels in 2013 were only 0.85 percent above the 2008 level. Since the majority of public transit trips are work trips, employment levels have a greater impact on ridership than population levels. Public transportation ridership growth has outpaced population growth since 1995, and more recent shifts point to increasing public transit use. In fact, our analysis shows that the 2005 gas price shock, combined with demographic shifts, established consistent behaviors that lead to the highest public transportation ridership since 1956.

Moreover, they state that public transportation only makes up 2 to 3 percent of passenger trips, but receives 20% of surface transportation funding. Their use of such statistics, however, represents an incomplete picture given that the measurement reflects all day travel, even though the majority of public transportation trips are in the peak hour, with 60% being work related. Furthermore, 45% of American households do not have access to any public transportation at all, and that the majority of Americans do not have access to the high frequency public transportation that leads to shifts in mode share. A 2013 APTA study of high-growth, mostly high-tech industry clusters found that public transportation investments around high-tech industry would remove the need for up to ten additional highway lanes in the vicinity of each economic center. In order to protect the half million jobs that could be at stake due to congestion, extra public transportation capacity is needed to move people around metro areas and increase the efficiency of the overall transportation system.

Public transportation provides benefits for people who do not use it. The professors wrote that an over reliance on driving “increases carbon emissions, pollutes our communities, and is a leading cause of injury and death.” They are correct that these are costs borne by the taxpayer at large. In contrast, public transit riders’ use of public transportation provides benefits, even to those who do not use it. Every ten people on a bus or train in your community during rush hour means nine fewer cars on the roads. That means less traffic congestion, fewer carbon emissions, and a safer community for all. Public transportation users should not have to pay for benefits that others receive, so the government picks up a portion of their costs. Fairness is not consistently applied in public policy. Case in point, the tax code, which provides a parking tax benefit that is over 90% higher than the tax benefit offered public transportation commuters. Most would say fairness is an important concept that should be applied to public policy when prudent.
The professors reused an argument from the Cato Institute, implying that public transit ridership in New York increased while ridership elsewhere declined. While the growth in trips in New York outpaced the nation as a whole, many other agencies across the country saw ridership gains last year. Cities that have invested in high frequency public transportation and transit-oriented development policies are experiencing significant ridership growth. This trend is evident since the end of the recession; fully 59.3% of ridership growth during the period occurred outside of New York City.

We also must disagree with the professors’ contention that recent trends do not indicate a shift in American travel behavior. Their assertion is inconsistent with the data reported by markets across the country. Americans have increasingly been moving to areas that are transit-oriented in nature.

Public transportation needs investment to fully contribute to America’s on-going economic recovery, as well as to meet the demand for service that the increases in ridership exhibit.

Public Transit Growth is Nationwide

By: Darnell Grisby, Director of Policy Development and Research for the American Public Transportation Association (APTA)

As reported by many news outlets over the last two weeks, public transportation reached a new milestone in the United States in 2013. Ridership reached the highest level since 1957, representing shifting attitudes and public transportation’s increasing influence in daily life.
However, there are false assumptions that the recent growth in public transportation ridership only occurred in New York City. Contrary to this inaccurate view, while New York City has lead the way, dissecting the ridership data shows that three categories of communities, also played a major role in national ridership growth.
The growth in public transportation has occurred across regions and city types. The Great Recession offered opportunities to reset behaviors and occurred during the rise of the Millennial Generation. Due to the combined shocks of economic dislocation and generational change, long lasting mobility shifts are likely.
Given the impacts of these events, analyzing ridership growth since the Great Recession provides the best explanation of trends. In describing ridership, the best context to understand the impact of transit, is to illustrate the types of communities that public transportation serves. We therefore divided communities into four categories: 1) New York City, 2) Transit Core, 3) New Players and 4) Bus Fast Lanes. Such a typology provides more color to the growth that has led to record public transportation use.


Another false assertion about public transit ridership is that rail systems are siphoning ridership away from bus systems. Contrary to this viewpoint, bus and rail trips are both growing. Public transit riders took an additional 479.7 million more trips in 2013 than in 2009. This is more proof that the American public transportation network is getting stronger and better connected—and that more Americans are choosing these new connections.

New York City has long had the largest share of public transportation trips in the United States, however, after nearly 30 years of reinvestment in the City of New York, as well as its transit system, New York City is again in a class of its own. New York City’s relatively strong economy, and its renewed public transportation system contributes to its outsized percentage of overall transit growth (39.7%). Though more investment is needed, NYC’s comeback is truly an American success story.

Public Transit Core Communities exist across the country and are categorized by growing economies that strain infrastructure that is in need of reinvestment. Many of these communities were among the first to develop rail systems and possess a large bus footprint. Additional infrastructure expenditures in these communities will likely lead to accelerated public transit ridership growth, due to latent demand. Growth in these communities constituted 14.9% of national ridership growth.

New Players Communities have seen both rapid growth in population and large recent investments in transit systems. These communities tend to have high economic growth and have used light rail as the primary new tool to combat growing congestion. These communities are often near beaches, in the desert, or are in mountain locations and are likely to see continued growth. New Players constituted 20.7% of national ridership growth.

Bus Fast Lane Communities are primarily centered on the bus, and bus improvements, as the primary current strategy. However, some communities may choose rail as a new tool in the near or intermediate term. They represent a broad cross section of the United States. Communities primarily focused on bus investments made up 25.3% of national ridership growth.


Therefore, it is an inaccurate assertion that New York City was solely responsible for ridership growth. The data clearly shows, since the recovery from the Great Recession, New York City has lead the way, but captured only 39.7% of ridership growth, New Player Communities captured 20.1%, Public Transit Core Communities 14.9%, and Bus Fast Lane Communities captured 25.3% of national ridership growth.

March Transit Savings Report Shows Big Savings!

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

Gallery Place 052913-130

For those people who follow March Madness they know winning their brackets takes some luck. But one sure fire way to put money in your pocket is to take public transportation. Consider the facts from the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) March Transit Savings Report, individuals who ride public transportation instead of driving can save, on average, more than $842 this month, and $10,103 annually, this represents an increase of 22 cents over last month’s gas prices. That’s not relying on luck, it is just logical.

These savings are based on the cost of commuting by public transportation compared to the cost of owning and driving a vehicle which includes the March 19, 2014 average national gas price ($3.53 per gallon- reported by AAA), and the national unreserved monthly parking rate.

APTA releases this monthly Transit Savings Report to examine how an individual in a two-person household can save money by taking public transportation and living with one less car.

Reason Foundation’s Paper Fails to Recognize Public Transit’s Role in the Nation’s Transportation Network

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


This blog post is in response to the Reason Foundation’s paper titled Transit Utilization and Traffic Congestion: Is There a Connection?.

Despite the mounting evidence, the Reason Foundation’s paper calls in question the work of economists and policy makers, as well as the experience of business owners from around the nation.

The Reason Foundation’s paper fails to recognize that our transportation network requires both an effective highway system, and high quality public transportation in order to provide the proximity to opportunity that both business owners and workers desire.

For instance, a recent American Public Transportation Association study titled The Role of Transit in Support of High Growth Clusters in the U.S. shows that nearly a half million jobs will be at risk due to traffic congestion. Municipal Planning Organizations from around the country, when interviewed for the study, noted that it is impractical in the vast majority of cases to build enough highway lane miles to accommodate anticipated job growth. They believe that high quality public transportation will be a necessary ingredient for their economies to continue to grow.

Statistical Biases Present

The Reason Foundation’s analysis is hampered by a number of statistical biases. Undergraduate and graduate students are both taught to assess their statistical work for a number biases and fallacies. Reason’s work fails to take note of the basics of statistical study. Just a few are noted below.

Biased Sample, Selective Reporting

1. Vehicle Miles Traveled is a measure of the amount of travel, not the success of accessing a destination. High quality public transportation, along with public transit supportive land use actually will reduce distance between activity nodes, improving the success of trips in reaching destinations in a timely manner.

2. The study’s use of the travel time index as the key methodology, shows the intensity of congestion instead of exposure to congestion. In cities with high quality public transportation, smaller proportions of the population are exposed to long, intense, congested commutes. Residents in these cities therefore have lower per capita congestion costs and lower out of pocket transportation expenses.

Failure to Show Causality, Yet Data Presented as Causal

3. Reason is measuring what has occurred – congestion on the highway side, to what has occurred with public transit travel. The correct comparison is to measure what would have occurred without public transit or with less or more public transit. Comparing something to itself is invalid. This is why drug tests have placebos.

4. Several good, peer-reviewed studies show that high quality public transit (convenient, comfortable, integrated and relatively fast) reduces congestion delay on parallel roadways. Therefore, public transit can in fact reduce congestion for highway users.

Additional Causal Fallacies: Complex Cause

5. The failure to control for city size, employment rates, and the frequency of public transportation service makes any attempt to draw causality fallacious. In fact, the Reason Foundation tries to measure public transit where high-frequency public transit does not exist or where public transit does not exist at all. Imagine measuring highways or road capacity where no roads existed or low quality roads were built. It would result in an inaccurate assessment of the performance of our road system.

Resources for Review
For those that seek to better understand the true nature of traffic congestion and public transportation’s ability to impact the nation’s commutes, they should refer to these resources:

Md Aftabuzzaman, Graham Currie and Majid Sarvi (2010), “Evaluating the Congestion Relief Impacts of Public Transport in Monetary Terms,” Journal of Public Transportation, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 1-24; Also see, “Exploring The Underlying Dimensions Of Elements Affecting Traffic Congestion Relief Impact Of Transit,” Cities, Vol. 28, Is. 1 (, February 2011, Pages 36-44.

Michael L. Anderson (2013), Subways, Strikes, and Slowdowns: The Impacts of Public Transit on Traffic Congestion, Working Paper No. 18757, National Bureau of Economic Research (; at

Sutapa Bhattacharjee and Andrew R. Goetz (2012), “Impact Of Light Rail On Traffic Congestion In Denver,” Journal of Transport Geography; abstract at

Changchoo Kim, Yong-Seuk Park and Sunhee Sang (2008), Spatial and Temporal Analysis of Urban Traffic Volume, 2008 ESRI International User Conference; at

J. Richard Kuzmyak (2012), Land Use and Traffic Congestion, Report 618, Arizona DOT (; at

Todd Litman (2004), “Impacts of Rail Transit on the Performance of a Transportation System,” Transportation Research Record 1930, Transportation Research Board (, pp. 23-29.

Shih-Che Lo and Randolph W. Hall (2006), “Effects of the Los Angeles Transit Strike On Highway Congestion,” Transportation Research A, Vol. 40, No. 10 (, December 2006, pp. 903-917.

Todd Litman (2012), Smart Congestion Relief: Comprehensive Analysis Of Traffic Congestion Costs and Congestion Reduction Benefits, Paper P12-5310, Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, Victoria Transport Policy Institute (; at

Public Transit Riders’ Commute Benefit Decreases if No Congressional Action is Taken


Statement by APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy

Commuters who use public transportation and especially those with the longer commutes by rail, bus, or van pools may see their annual commuting cost increase up to $1,380 a year based on a bias in the tax code that eliminates the parity between public transportation and auto users.

If Congress fails to pass legislation to preserve equity between the tax treatment of transit benefits and benefits for parking, when current law expires on December 31, 2013, the transit commuter benefit will drop from $245 to $130 per month, while the parking benefit is automatically adjusted up to $250 per month.

Reducing the benefits for public transit riders at the same time that this tax benefit is adjusted upward for auto drivers diverges from a balanced federal tax policy that treats different modes of travel equitably.

We urge Americans to support fair treatment for all commuters by writing to their Representatives and Senators and asking them to support the Commuter Parity Act (House Resolution 2288) and the Commuter Benefits Equity Act (Senate Bill 1116). Congress can extend this benefit in any “tax extenders” legislation that is considered before the end of the year.

Congress must act now to maintain parity between transit tax benefits and parking tax benefits to ensure that there is not a disincentive for taking public transit. It is sound policy to maintain both the public transit and parking benefits at equal levels.

Last year, Americans took more than 10.5 billion trips on public transportation. Let’s preserve equity in the tax code when it comes to commuting – whether one commutes by public transportation or drives to work.

Up to 480,000 High-Skilled Jobs Are at Risk Due to Congestion

Michael P. MelaniphyBy Michael Melaniphy

This week we shared some new information about the role of public transportation in maintaining the competitive advantage of America’s most productive industries and regions. This cutting edge study conceived and commissioned by APTA shows how public transportation supports strong private sector job growth in the nation’s fastest growing sectors.

America was once the leader in manufacturing, we lost that edge. It is important that we do not lose the lead we have today in knowledge-intensive industries. We have 480,000 future jobs at stake due to congestion.

Our nation is changing. Job growth is increasingly focused in the most productive areas that hold the most educated workforces. These workers increasingly seek public transportation choices. These centers tend to be anchored by a major university or medical institution. They tend to be a leader in the creation of new private sector jobs in their metropolitan area.

According to traffic modeling and interviews with a number of local governments, simply adding highway lanes will not sustain these clusters, nor is this the answer for those who reside in these clusters. Additional public transportation will be needed to develop the economy that Americans need.

Please take a look at the report, consider the implications, highways can only be expanded so wide. We must continue to grow these economic clusters with accessible public transportation.

Rail to Airport Connection Boost Hotel Revenue

Michael P. Melaniphy

by APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy

Cities with rail connections have a competitive advantage in generating revenue for the private sector and the overall city tax base as compared to similar cities that do not have these direct rail connections to the airport, according to a new report released by the American Public Transportation Association and the U.S. Travel Association.

The report, A New Partnership: Rail Transit and Convention Growth shows that hotels in cities with direct rail access to airport terminals perform nearly 11 percent better in revenue per room than hotels in cities without a rail airport connection.

That translates to a potential 313 million dollars of additional revenue per year from what the report designates as “rail cities”– these are cities which have direct rail access to airport terminals. In the post-recession period, hotels in cities with direct rail access commanded 16 percent higher revenue per room than those in cities without airport rail connections.

What is even more striking is that hotel properties located in close proximity, or within a quarter mile of a rail station, averaged a nearly 50 percent higher daily room rate and a 12 and a half percent higher occupancy rate than hotels outside the quarter mile radius of a rail station.

The “rail cities” analyzed for this report represent a variety of communities and include public transit systems with a direct rail connection to airports in Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Portland and San Francisco.

As a comparison, these rail cities were measured against hotel performance in popular convention and meetings destinations whose cities lacked a direct rail connection to the airport terminal. These cities were Las Vegas, New Orleans, Orlando, Sacramento, and Tampa.

The difference in performance between hotels in “rail cities” and those without the rail connection to the airport terminal was also apparent with the luxury and upscale hotel properties which are frequently preferred by business travelers and convention attendees.

Luxury hotels can command a 12.4 percent higher average daily room rate as compared to a non-rail city, and also boast a 5.7 percent higher occupancy rate.

So you may ask yourself, why does the rail airport connection have such a positive impact in attracting travelers? America’s downtowns have a lot to offer travelers.

Rail connections allow for greater choice and flexibility in how visitors experience a region’s amenities. Cities aren’t just competing within the U.S. to bring in travelers and business meetings – they have to be competitive with a variety of global locations.

Finally, smart investments in public transportation infrastructure reap benefits not only for the local city and state, but allow for the entire nation to remain globally competitive.