America's public transit systems are more than just a way to get from one place to another. From coast to coast, more than 10 billion times a year, our transit networks help us get home to our families, connect us with opportunities like work and school, and strengthen our communities.
Our nation's transit riders know this, and so does the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), an organization of transit agencies working to ensure that public transportation is available and accessible for all Americans in communities across the country. And as gas prices rise, providing affordable, efficient transportation alternatives to Americans is more important than ever.
That’s why, this week, APTA members and I are on the same page as they have come to Washington, DC, to talk with their Members of Congress about the need to pass a good, long-term transportation plan.
And they brought with them persuasive evidence: 2011 ridership numbers. Last year, Americans took 10.4 billion trips on transit systems across the country, which is 235 million more rides on public buses, trains, and other transit vehicles than in 2010. It's the second highest ridership since 1957 and the sixth year in a row that ridership surpassed 10 billion.
It's also the biggest surge in ridership than before the recent recession began. And since more than half of transit rides are for work commutes, ridership growth is a good economic sign. As Michael Melaniphy said, "It’s not surprising to see ridership increase in areas where the economy has improved.”
To keep our economy growing, President Obama proposed a budget that includes a 105 percent increase in funding for America's transit systems over six years. That includes additional support for our Federal Transit Administration's wildly successful New Starts competitive capital grant program, which means we'll have $2.2 billion to put people back to work on 29 projects in 15 states, with more projects to come. the President’s plan continues our commitment to funding the transit needs of communities across the country – a bipartisan tradition that’s been in place since President Ronald Reagan was in office.
The benefits of transit are enormous. Transit helps connect Americans with jobs, education, medical services, groceries, and more. It helps us spend more time with our families, avoid the stress of driving in traffic, lighten the burden on our congested roadways, lower our dependence on fossil fuels, and reduce our carbon emissions. And, for the many Americans who don't drive, transit provides the only way to get where they need to go.
APTA's ridership study tells us that Americans need and want public transit. But FTA, APTA, and transit agencies across the country can't meet the current and growing demand for transit services unless Congress passes a long-term transportation plan.
That's what APTA members will tell legislators this week. It's what President Obama and I have been saying for months on end. It's time for Congress to get the message.