Americans' mass transit use highest in decades

As more Americans move into cities and curb their driving habits over concerns of traffic and pollution, researchers say that mass transit use is higher than it has been in decades. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Christian Science Monitor/File
A businessman rides the number one train on the New York subway. The American Public Transportation Association reports that commuters logged more miles on mass transit options than behind the wheel of automobiles last year.

A straightforward way to save fuel is to ditch a car for mass transit, and that's what many U.S. drivers are doing.

According to recently-published data (pdf) from the American Public Transportation Association--a mass-transit advocacy group--in 2013 U.S. public transit use was at its highest in 57 years.

U.S. riders took 10.7 billion trips on public transit last year, the eighth year in a row that the total has surpassed 10 billion.

It also represents growth of 37.2 percent since 1995, which means transit use is outpacing vehicle miles driven--which grew by 22.7 percent in the same period--and population, which expanded by 20.3 percent.

This is the latest indication that Americans are driving less.

The Federal Highway Administration has found that per-capita Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) peaked in 2004 and has actually declined steadily since then.

In addition, a study released by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials last October found that the number of "Zero-Car Families" in the U.S. is on the rise.

Researchers found an increase in the number of U.S. households without a car, the first time this phenomenon has been observed in decades.

While fallout from the Great Recession may have had some initial impact, the increase of mass-transit usage through the recovery of 2013 shows there are other factors at work.

As more people move into cities, mass transit--or even biking or walking--becomes a more viable alternative to driving.

More "Millennials" are also moving into U.S. cities, and analysts say these young people are driving less than their parents for several reasons, including environmental concern, the inability to afford cars, and a fixation with social media.

At the same time, urban citizens are looking to curtail the traffic and air pollution associated with car usage.

That's why increased global urbanization may bring about "Peak Car"--the point where new-car sales stop growing--within the next decade.

However, these trends only apply to cities.

The suburban infrastructure built up since World War II means most U.S. households will still require at least one vehicle well into the future.


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to