More Americans rode trains, buses, streetcars and subways last year than at any time since 1956. That's according to new figures released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). In fact, more than 10.7 billion journeys were made by public transit nationally, and transit ridership is up 37.2 percent since 1995.

So what's going on? 

Certainly, as the APTA notes, the economic recovery will be playing a role. But there are broader trends that point to a long-term growth in ridership, including increased urbanization.

Here's how The Guardian explains the shift:

Transit advocates argue that the public increasingly values the ability to get around without a car. They offer as evidence the nation’s urban shift and the movement to concentrate new development around transit hubs.

“People want to work and live along transit lines,” said Michael Melaniphy, president and chief executive of the public transportation association. “Businesses, universities and housing are all moving along those corridors.”

As I argued recently, alongside the shift to more urban living, mobile technology like smartphones are also playing a role in making public transportation more convenient. With many urban dwellers now carrying a smartphone, they are able to check schedules in real time, and in some cases purchase e-tickets. It doesn't hurt, of course, that they can also check their emails or catch up with their friends online as they ride. (Try doing that as you navigate the rush-hour traffic!)

The best part of all this is that as ridership increases, more, better and cleaner transportation options should increase too. In my neck of the woods, plans are finally moving forward with a Chapel Hill-Durham light rail link, and the rise of car sharing is making car ownership optional for many. And then there's the steady spread of electrified, zero-emission buses to look forward to also. 

We may indeed be living in a golden age of public transit. And it's about time. 

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