U.S DOT: Transit Ridership Up Again in February, Increase Highest Since 2005

Phoenix light rail (US DOT photo)

This in from the DOT: transit ridership spiked 5.5 percent compared to February of 2011.  According to Ray LaHood's Fastlane blog, "This is the first time since 2005 that transit ridership has increased by more than 5 percent from the prior year for two consecutive months. And the average increase during the past six months of 4.5 percent is the highest since 2008."

The increase correlates almost exactly with the beginning of this run of higher gas prices.  Take a lot at this chart of gas prices over the last six months from  gasbuddy.com -- look at what happens in February.

Other facts from the DOT:

  • Houston's Main Street Red Line carries 45,000 passengers a day, far over expectations.
  • Phoenix's  light rail has fueled a push for transit in neighboring Tempe and Mesa.
  • Charlotte's Lynx has generated $1.4 billion in economic development.

Transit ridership also spiked in 2008, and the number of miles driven cratered, but that slowly changed as gas prices sank again. But last spring, as gas prices inched up, so did transit ridership.

In 2011, transit ridership also steadily rose, the American Public Transportation Association reports.

The result of all of these data points  -- that transit ridership tracks gas prices -- would suggest that Americans are fickle. Except that last week, U.S. PIRG released a report showing that transit use is way up among young people, and driving is way down: 24 percent over the last decade.

That suggests a generational shift may be underway. As these young people age, Americans may drive less.

Stay tuned.