10 Things You Should Know About Mass Transit
By Mary Branham, CSG Managing Editor
The Federal Transit Administration has known for some time that its process to fund projects across the country is rigorous.
With the amount of money at stake, that’s not a bad thing, said Administrator Peter Rogoff. But, he said, “it also is unnecessarily burdensome.”
New proposed rules are designed to take a broader approach in evaluating the merit of projects, he said. “They look at not just the travel time savings, but also the economic development benefits from those investments,” said Rogoff.
As fuel prices rise, many more drivers are looking at public transit—like light rail and buses—as a means of saving money. That interest is prompting cities and communities to look for assistance in building out those services, said Rogoff.
That’s where the FTA’s New Starts program comes in. It includes $2 billion in funding to help communities of all sizes looking to expand transit services.
“It’s not all about big cities,” said Rogoff. “It’s really a combination of who has the vision and resources to help cost-share in it.”
With that in mind, the FTA is working to make it easier for states and communities to apply for federal funding, removing some burdensome rules that have made it difficult in the past for communities to build what they need to serve commuters.
Here are 10 things state policymakers—and community leaders—should keep in mind as they consider public transit. The American Public Transportation Association, unless noted, has provided the information.
1. LEADING SYSTEMS
New York City Transit led the nation in the number of passenger trips, with more than 3.2 billion trips. It also led the nation in the number of passenger miles with 11.9 billion miles. The next closest transit agency in providing passenger trips was Chicago Transit Authority with 521 million passenger trips. In passenger miles, the New Jersey Transit Corporation was second with 3.6 billion miles.
2. MILES OF SERVICE
In 2009, U.S. transit systems provided 4.6 billion miles of service; operating transit vehicles for 312 million hours of service.
3. FUNDING MECHANISMS
Passenger fares pay a small percentage of the operating budget for transit—31.5 percent. They pay an even smaller percentage of the total transit budget across the country—21.5 percent.
States pay 21.8 percent of total transit funding, including 25.3 percent of operating expenses and 25.3 percent of capital expenses. The federal government provides 42.2 percent of capital expenses; its contribution to overall transit funding is 19.1 percent. The rest is provided by local governments and directly generated funds, which can include advertising, in addition to passenger fares.
4. USAGE INCREASES
Ridership in the first three quarters of 2011 was up 1.5 percent in the first and second quarters, and 2 percent in the third quarter over the same time frame in 2010, according to APTA. “Ridership is up and, in some communities, it’s at record levels,” Rogoff told Capitol Ideas. The number of regular commuters on transit has increased from 5.98 million in 2004 to 6.92 million in 2009, according to APTA. The percentage of commuters using transit as their primary means of transportation to work rose from 4.57 percent in 2004 to 4.99 percent in 2009.
5. BUSES LEAD RIDERSHIP
The mode of transit with the most ridership was buses, with 52.5 percent of passenger trips, followed by heavy rail with 33.6 percent, light rail and commuter rail, with 4.5 percent each, paratransit—or demand response mode of transit—with 1.8 percent and trolleybus with 1 percent.
6. INVESTMENT PAYS OFF
Every $1 billion invested in public transportation creates and supports 36,000 jobs. The public transportation industry is a $55 billion industry supporting 1.9 million jobs, APTA President and CEO Michael P. Melaniphy said in his 2012 State of the Public Transportation Industry. For every $1 invested in public transportation, $4 is generated in economic returns.
7. SUPPORT GROWS
In 2011, 79 percent of public transit ballot initiatives were approved at the state and local level. Since 2000, ballot initiatives dealing with transit have passed by 73 percent, according to Melaniphy.
8. TRANSIT SERVICES
The U.S. is home to 7,200 transit systems, including 6,700 paratransit services and 1,088 bus services. Bus services have the largest fleet of vehicles, with 66,506 vehicles available for peak service.
9. COMMUTER SAVINGS
New estimates show a family can save from $10,000 to $12,000 a year if it removes one vehicle from usage—including a car payment and costs to operate, according to Rogoff. According to the APTA’s January Transit Savings Report, for instance, individuals who ride public transportation instead of driving can save, on average, $816 dollars a month, and $9,790 annually. These savings are based on the cost of commuting by public transportation compared to the Jan. 10, 2012, average national gas price and the national unreserved monthly parking rate.
Transit services employed more than 400,000 people across the country in operations, maintenance and general administration.