Americans took 10.8 billion trips on public transportation in 2014, up 1 percent from 2013 and the highest level in 58 years, the American Public Transportation Association reported.
The gain came despite a plunge in gasoline and diesel prices that made roadway driving less expensive, in keeping with analysts' predictions that the falling fuel prices would not quickly alter normal daily transportation habits.
APTA President Michael Melaniphy said: "The record ridership in 2014 is a clear message to Congress that the citizens of this country want expanded public transit services."
He urged Congress to "pass a long-term, well-funded surface transportation bill that invests in our country's public transit infrastructure. This is critical not only to the millions of Americans who use public transportation, but is also crucial for our country's economic competitiveness."
Melaniphy noted that gains in transit use mainly came in communities experiencing economic growth. "Since nearly 60 percent of the trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes, public transportation ridership increases are seen in areas where the local economy is growing," he said.
Nationally, ridership on heavy-rail subway and elevated train systems increased 3.3 percent to 3.9 million, while unlinked bus trips declined 1.1 percent to below 5.3 million. Use of light rail systems including trollies and streetcars grew 3.6 percent, and commuter train trips rose by 2.9 percent.
"Expanded and improved public transit services also played a role in attracting more riders," said Melaniphy. Those included service expansions that boosted ridership in Albany, N.Y.; Denver; Indianapolis; Riverside, Calif.; and Salt Lake City.
The decline in use of bus service was not across the board. APTA said ridership grew in areas with small and medium-sized populations, and some large cities also saw bus use increase.
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