This post is by Andy Darrell, vice president for Living Cities at Environmental Defense Fund.
The high cost of gas has pushed retail gas purchases down 2 to 3 percent. What are people doing instead? Taking public transportation!
The first quarter report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) found that use of public transportation is skyrocketing in tandem with gas prices. Last year 10.3 billion trips were taken on U.S. public transportation — the highest in 50 years. Ridership on streetcars, trolleys, commuter rails, subways, and buses are all up. Even Amtrak ridership is soaring.
This shift presents an historic opportunity.
It was hard to get us Americans out of our cars when gas was cheap, but now we're trying public transportation in record numbers. And once people try it, odds are they'll prefer it, which is great news for the environment.
Good public transportation is more pleasant than a private car (you can't read while you're driving), and far cheaper. A calculator on the APTA Web site shows how much you can save by leaving your car parked at home.
The problem is that too few Americans have convenient and reliable access to public transportation. When the transportation bill comes up for reauthorization, Congress will have an opportunity to address this. Instead of the usual tired formula that favors roads over innovative transit, we need to fund public transportation that delivers real choices.
Public transportation doesn't have to mean gigantic investments in infrastructure. Shuttle buses can ease the growing parking problem at commuter rail stations. Bus Rapid Transit — buses that operate in dedicated lanes, bypassing traffic — can be as quick as a subway train, but are much cheaper to deploy.
Buses can be pleasant, too. Google provides shuttle buses for its employees with leather seats and wireless Internet access. New York City's new Select Bus Service has traffic-signal priority that boosts rush-hour service up to 20 percent.
Cities need the resources to try innovative ideas like these. It's time to reinvent our country's transit system to make public transportation accessible to everyone.
How would you rather get to the beach this holiday weekend — speedy and effortless Bus Rapid Transit, or creeping along bumper to bumper watching your fuel tank (and wallet) getting emptier?