When gas prices rise, the number of people who flock to public transportation as a cheaper travel alternative also rises. Fluctuating gas prices in 2012 were just one reason for the record public transportation ridership numbers posted in cities across the nation. Overall, 10.5 billion trips were taken on public transportation systems, including buses, light rail, trains and subways.  

According to data released from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), 2012 posted the highest annual ridership since 2008 and the second highest number since this manner of transit recordkeeping began in 1957. In addition to the unpredictable gas prices, the APTA also cites an increase in people returning to work as another reason why public transportation systems saw record and near-record ridership figures.

APTA president and CEO Michael Melaniphy commented on the record numbers in a statement released this morning, “Every mode of public transportation showed an increase in ridership. Public transit ridership grew in all areas of the country – North, South, East and West — in small, medium and large communities, with at least 16 public transit systems reporting record ridership.”

Highlights from the APTA report include:

Light rail

  • Total light rail ridership increased by 4.5 percent
  • Memphis ridership increased by 28.4 percent
  • Dallas – 20.8 percent increase
  • Los Angeles – 18.5 percent increase
  • Salt Lake City – 14.7 percent increase
  • Pittsburgh – 14.7 percent increase
  • Seattle – 10.7 percent increase
Heavy rail
  • Cleveland – 9.7 percent increase
  • San Francisco – 7.8 percent increase
  • Miami – 5.2 percent increase
  • Chicago – 4.3 percent increase
  • Los Angeles – 3.7 percent increase
Record ridership was set in 16 communities including Boston, Nashville, Orlando, Phoenix and Seattle.  

While the nation posted its second highest ridership numbers in nearly five decades, the number could have been higher if it weren’t for Superstorm Sandy.  In the aftermath of the storm that decimated parts of the Northeast, many public transit systems were shut down temporarily. During these shutdowns, the APTA estimates that 74 million rides were lost.