Friday, June 27, 2008

What is the real effect of gas prices on transit ridership?

There has been a lot of press recently about how transit use is way up because of high gas prices. I don't doubt that there have been some effects. However, people are not switching to transit willy-nilly, rather they are only switching to certain types of transit. Today's LA Times has two stories that show the problems with the idea that transit use is way up due to gas prices alone.

The first article is about the federal legislation that funds additional operating costs for transit. The lede mentions that people are flocking to bus and rail, but the statistics cited later refer only to light rail and commuter rail. Light rail is up 10% over last year, for instance. Since light rail is going through a growth spurt across the country, there is no doubt some of this increase is simply due to service expansion.

The second article really shows the complexity of luring riders to transit. This story details how LA MTA is suffering from declining bus performance. It also cites Metro staff who say that bus ridership is down nearly 6% from last year. Rail ridership has increased during the same period. Yet buses carry far more riders than rail-80% of the total boardings. This results in a net decline of local (not commuter) transit use year to year even in the face of higher gas prices.

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