State of the Industry

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By: Michael Melaniphy, APTA President & CEO

Recently I delivered a State of the Industry speech, it covered the past year, our current status, and some thoughts for the future. Today I would like to share some highlights with you.

Demand for public transportation is on the rise. In fact, 10.7 billion trips were taken on public transportation in 2013, the highest in 57 years, according to our most recent statistics.

Even those who drive should take note of these statistics, which show that communities that invest in public transportation stand to gain. APTA figures point to a four-fold economic return on investment for every dollar spent on public transportation.

It truly reinforces a common refrain in our industry, where public transportation goes, businesses thrive, property becomes more attractive, and tax revenues increase.

A substantial and robust public transportation infrastructure is one key innovation that helps to support economic growth in local communities, say experts. With federal funding for public transportation poised to be a critical issue for Congress this year, public transportation advocates are calling for funding legislation that is reliable and sustainable in order to plan, build, maintain and repair these systems.

As we approach the May 31 deadline for a new surface transportation bill, it is critical that our national leaders come together to create legislation that will ensure years of economic growth and opportunity for communities across the country.

Here are several ways such investment in public transportation could affect an individual community:

  • If you are a homeowner, public transportation in a community could spell financial security during times of economic uncertainty. Residential property values performed 42 percent better on average during the last recession if they were located near public transportation with high-frequency service, according to a report by the National Association of Realtors and APTA.
  • Seventy percent of millennials prefer a city or town that features a multimodal transportation option that includes public transportation. By investing in public transportation infrastructure, a community increases the likelihood of attracting new talent and industry to the area, especially as public transportation systems adopt technologies like smartphone charging stations on vehicles and facilities and fare collection via smartphone.
  • Public transportation is a 61 billion dollar a year industry that puts people to work –– 1.1 million jobs are created or sustained annually, directly employing nearly 400,000 people and creating hundreds of thousands of private-sector jobs. As such, public transportation advocates say that by supporting measures that improve these systems, local residents will be doing their community a favor.

No matter how you get around your community, a robust public transit system stands to have a positive impact you and the local economy.

More than 2.7 Billion Trips Taken on Public Transportation in 2014 Third Quarter

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By: Michael Melaniphy, APTA President & CEO

More than 2.7 billion trips were taken on U.S. public transportation in the third quarter of 2014, according to a report released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).  This is a 1.8 percent increase over the same quarter last year, representing an increase of more than 48 million trips and the highest third quarter ridership since 1974 (the oldest third quarter APTA has available for comparison).

Some of the public transit systems that reported record third quarter ridership for their entire system or specific lines are located in the following cities:  Albany, NY; Ann Arbor, MI; Birmingham, AL; Denver, CO; Minneapolis, MN; New York City (Metro North), NY; Oakland, CA; St. Petersburg, FL; Peoria, IL; Seattle,WA; and Wenatchee, WA.

There are a number of reasons why public transportation ridership is on the rise.  First, the investment in public transportation by the federal government has paid off with new rail and bus rapid transit lines or extensions that have opened up in recent years.  These new services have not only created greater access for people to use public transit, but have led to economic development that has transformed and revitalized the community. Public transportation is not just moving people, but also positively shaping the communities we live in.

A second reason for increased ridership is that people are affirmatively responding to the quality of public transportation that is now available.  For example, some public transit systems have increased their frequency of service and have modernized their vehicle fleets.  Additionally, with the use of apps and real time information at stations, riders can easily find out when the next bus or train will arrive.  Technology has made riding public transportation more convenient and easier to use.

Additionally,  the economy is recovering and since nearly 60 percent of public transit trips are taken to travel for work commutes, public transportation ridership has increased in cities where the economy has improved.

The following cities are some examples of areas with higher employment and public transit ridership for the third quarter:  Atlanta, GA; Boston, MA; Champaign-Urbana, IL; Columbus, OH; Dallas, TX; Denver, CO; Minneapolis, MN; Portland, OR; Salt Lake City, UT; San Francisco, CA, and Seattle, WA.

High and volatile gas prices have played a part over the past nine years in convincing people to try public transportation.  Now that gas prices are declining, many people are still choosing to ride public transportation.  They have discovered that there are other benefits to taking public transit besides saving money.

For full national ridership numbers see the ridership report.

The Nation is a Multimodal Network

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    by Darnell Grisby, APTA Director, Policy Development and Research

APTA occasionally gathers information on the use of public transportation, as well as the characteristics of public transportation users. In information that emphasizes the multimodal nature of our transportation network, 82 percent of public transportation users last summer report having an automobile in their household. Public transportation users pay into the highway trust fund in a number of ways, and this data shows that one of those ways happens to be driving.

(Click on the figure below to view the chart)

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Technometrica, Driving Habits of Public Transportation Users, July 2014, Conducted for the American Public Transportation Association

Furthermore, it is clear that public transportation offers relief to our nation’s highways. Of those drivers that used public transportation in our poll, 87% used their cars three or more times in a given week. Not only do public transportation users contribute to the Highway Trust Fund, but they also provide relief to their fellow drivers when they use public transportation some portion of their weekly activities as seen in this chart.

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Urgent Action by Congress is needed on Commute Benefit To Restore Tax Parity with Auto Drivers

By Michael Melaniphy, APTA President and CEO
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The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) joins the Commuter Benefits Work for Us Coalition, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) in urging Congress to take immediate action to restore parity among public transportation/van pool and parking benefits.

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

Absent Congressional action, the transit commuter benefit dropped at the beginning of this year from $245 to $130 per month, while the parking benefit was automatically adjusted up to $250 per month. This equates to a higher tax of approximately $565 annually for those who take public transit. Congress has an opportunity to correct this and restore parity between transit tax benefits and parking tax benefits before the next tax year begins.

We believe it is sound policy to maintain both the public transit and parking benefits at equal levels. The current law diverges from a balanced federal tax policy that treats different modes of travel equitably.

Restoring parity between transit tax benefits and parking tax benefits will eliminate the federal tax incentive to drive over taking public transportation.

Let’s restore equity in the tax code when it comes to commuting – whether one commutes by public transportation or drives to work.

Elections Are Right Around the Corner

By: Michael P. Melaniphy, APTA President and CEO

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This weekend marks Halloween and the end of Daylight Saving Time. This means that election day is right around the corner and it is our civic duty to participate in the electoral process. Many communities have initiatives that impact public transportation and this is a great pre-election round up and year to date tally of public transit initiatives this year from the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Good luck and happy voting!

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

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

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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

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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.