Monday, December 8, 2008

Why you're standing on the bus

The American Public Transportation Association reported that public transit ridership in the third quarter of 2008 across the country jumped more than 6.5 percent over the same figure from a year earlier. Locally, bus ridership in and around Greensboro also appears to be up.

The increase in ridership occurred at time when gas prices were peaking (July); the increase also occurred during a period of growing unemployment. Not surprisingly, personal driving miles and gas consumption are down. Car sales are slumpting, too.

With gas prices now down substantially, it remains to be seen whether transit ridership levels will be sustained. There are reasons, however, to believe it will. A big hurdle to ridership is figuring out bus and train schedules and the methods for payment; once people have "invested" in obtaining this information, subsequent ridership becomes much easier. Even if they eventually go back to their cars, people with ridership experience are more likely to turn to occassional transit use when personal arrangements break down or when there are special events.

The new President and Congress are considering public infrastructure spending as part of their economic stimulus plans. Investments in transit infrastructure, including improvements in train tracks, should be included. Locally, bus routes need to be streamlined; regional services need to be better integrated, and bus service to the airport needs to be improved.