Monday, 2 June 2008
As morning commutes on Washington, DC’s subway, the Metro, go, this morning wasn’t bad at all. The train pulled into the station just as I was stepping onto the platform, I found a seat, and was even able to get in a little bit of a snooze on the ride. Usually I’m lucky to get just one of those, and more often get stuck holding onto mere inches of handrail, while shoved up against some large, sweaty individual. Unfortunately, it looks like I’m going to have to resign myself to the latter.
A new report out this week from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) finds that transit ridership was at record highs for the first quarter of 2008, and is expected to grow further in the second. Citing gas prices that have topped four dollars a gallon nationwide, APTA found that light rail trips are up by about 10%, commuter rail rose by 5.7%, heavy rail by 4.4%, and bus usage by about 2% over the same time last year. At the same time, the Federal Highway Administration last week announced a decline in vehicle miles traveled of about 2.3 %.
While the increase in transit ridership might be good news for the environment and motorists on somewhat less crowded highways, that doesn’t mean we have adequate transit infrastructure to meet this suddenly rising demand. In the 2005 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure ASCE graded the nation’s transit infrastructure at a D+. Only about 5% of the nation’s population has safe and reliable access to transit, and what systems that are available, are generally cash-strapped and under-maintained.
In Washington alone, where Metro ridership is beating the national average at a 15%-20% increase, the system is chronically under-funded and lacks any dedicated source of funding. If gas prices keep rising and the upward trend in riders continues, the nation’s transit systems might be pushed to a breaking point. As we look forward to 2009 when SAFETEA-LU (the nation’s highway bill) expires, serious attention must be paid the maintenance and expansion of the transit system. Without transit solutions that reduce traffic congestion and get workers to their jobs quickly and comfortably, our only options become sitting in traffic or forcing our way onto a jammed subway car.