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The future of public transportation

Transportation Responsibility & YouSabrina HarrisGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Post Independent Photo/Kelley Cox
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After 50 years of sagging ridership, the transit industry is back in heavy demand. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), more than 10.3 billion trips were taken nationwide by use of public transportation in 2007. In the second quarter of 2008, public transit agencies saw the second-highest increase in ridership, with a 5.1 percent nationwide. With these reports, the Federal Highway Administration reported a drop of 3.3 percent in vehicle miles traveled, even with our growing population. Locally, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) has seen an increase of 9.3 percent in ridership numbers through August, year-to-date for 2008, while Ride Glenwood Springs has increased 10.7 percent during the same time period. Over the past three years, Ride Glenwood has grown from 150,778 to 485,266 total riders in 2007.Record numbers of Americans from small communities to large cities continue to ride public transportation to beat the high gas prices, said APTA President William W. Millar. This large quarterly increase is remarkable, particularly since an economic downturn usually causes fewer people to ride public transit. This surge in ridership underlines the urgent need for increased investment in public transportation from state, local and federal governments.Unfortunately, most transit agencies will not have a chance to celebrate their new popularity. High fuel prices are affecting the public transit systems just as they are impacting our own personal budgets. Most agencies nationwide are reporting budgetary limitations in their ability to add service to meet increased ridership demands. In APTAs nationwide survey of transit systems, 85 percent of public transit systems report capacity problems. More than 60 percent of the responding public transportation systems are considering fare increases, even though fare box revenues cover only 20-50 percent of service cost. Thirty-five percent of the systems are considering service cuts, some for the second time in less than a year. Millar continued, Public transportation is woefully underfunded in this country. Public transit systems nationwide are being asked to accommodate record numbers of riders with little, and even diminishing, local and state revenue. This financial crisis must be addressed, especially at a time when Americans are depending more and more on public transportation.To assist, APTA has been actively working to secure extra federal assistance with Congressional leaders for immediate federal funds for public transportation. As a result, Congress is considering adding two distinct proposals that would provide new capital and operating assistance to public transportation agencies to save energy, stimulate the economy and provide relief from high fuel costs. Final consideration of these bills is expected within the next week. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that contains the Saving Energy through Public Transportation Act, under H.R. 6899, The Comprehensive American Energy Security and Consumer Protection Act. Legislation would authorize $1.7 billion for public transportation for fiscal years 2008 and 2009. These funds would be distributed to transit agencies to cover operating and capital costs. Sabrina Harris is transportation manager for the city of Glenwood Springs.


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