Transit group says spike in fuel prices will lead to massive increase in transit ridership a la 2008

The U.S. Energy Information Administration is set to update the above numbers later today -- and pricese are likely to go up.

The report comes from the American Public Transportation Assn. (APTA), a group that represents transit agencies and private firms involved in the transit business. So it’s not exactly a surprise they predict ridership to soar — although that’s exactly what happened when gas prices topped $4 a gallon in the summer of 2008.

Check out the latest data on gas prices from the U.S. Energy Information Administration — the average in California for a gallon of regular was $3.87 as of last week. Here’s the press release from APTA:

$5 a Gallon Gas Could Spur Up to 1.5 Billion Additional Passenger Trips on U.S. Public Transportation Systems

Congress needs to provide long-term investment in public transit to address impending demand

Washington, DC- A study released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) predicts that as gasoline prices continue increasing, Americans will turn to public transportation in record numbers.  APTA is calling on Congress to address this impending demand by providing a greater long-term investment in public transportation.

The analysis reveals if regular gas prices reach $4 a gallon across the nation, as many experts have forecasted, an additional 670 million passenger trips could be expected, resulting in more than 10.8 billion trips per year. If pump prices jump to $5 a gallon, the report predicts an additional 1.5 billion passenger trips can be expected, resulting in more than 11.6 billion trips per year.   And if prices were to soar to $6 a gallon, expectations go as high as an additional 2.7 billion passenger trips, resulting in more than 12.9 billion trips per year.

“The volatility of the price at the pump is another wake up call for our nation to address the increasing demand for public transportation services,” said APTA President William Millar.  “We must make significant, long-term investments in public transportation or we will leave our fellow Americans with limited travel options, or in many cases stranded without travel options.  Public transit is the quickest way for people to beat high gas prices if it is available.”

Many of the public transit systems across the country are already seeing large ridership increases, some reaching double digits in the month of February as compared to the previous year.  For instance; the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority in Pompano Beach, FL increased by 10.6  percent; Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority of Philadelphia, PA increased by 10 percent;  and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority of Oakland, CA increased by 14 percent.

“We saw this same story in 2008 and several times before where high gas prices caught our country without adequate travel options,” said Millar.  “However, this time we can write a happy ending and make sure investment is made to expand public transportation so that more Americans have a choice in how they travel.”

APTA supports the Obama Administration’s transportation authorization blueprint and proposal which increases public transit investment by 128 percent over the next six years.  This type of investment would help close the gap for the 46 percent of Americans who do not have access to public transportation.

APTA is encouraging riders to tell Congress they need more transportation options by going to or text TRANSIT to 86677 and join the “I <3 (heart) transit campaign.”

The projected estimates use the 2010 APTA Public Transportation Ridership Report as a baseline.  The ridership is then increased by the reported elasticity multiplied by the projected price change to show ridership growth at a given increase above the average price for regular gasoline as reported in the last 2010 report by the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy.

A copy of the report can be found at

8 replies

  1. I would hope that Metro is somewhat insulated from rising oil prices since they use CNG buses. But I can’t really picture the driving culture in this city changing too much until we make significant progress with infill density and complete streets.

  2. @Dennis Hindman
    And thus increases the level of service from a gridlocked mode (street bus) to a more separated mode (BRT and rail) and there is nothing wrong with that. Metros ridership has remained flat because 1, it has not built enough backbone lines (BRT LRT HRT etc.) to enough areas to attract enough people and 2, where there is metro there is still that good ol’ cultural stigma against using public transit but that will change as traffic becomes a complete and total standstill which is inevitable in the very near future.

  3. It certainly looks like adding BRT or rail lines simply moves people from buses on the street to these other forms of transit with no increase in total ridership. The total ridership of Metro over the last three years has remained flat.

  4. The downside to increasing gas prices is that the price of fuel for mass transit goes up with it. Transit agencies in turn raise ticket prices. When turns off people from wanting to ride transit and they go back to driving their cars.

  5. “will it become self-sustaining too see some form of profit so that we can start seeing our some of our taxes on public transit go down?”

    Will we see some of our taxes on roads and highways go down too?

  6. That’s fine and dandy and all, but if we see an increase in ridership, will it become self-sustaining too see some form of profit so that we can start seeing our some of our taxes on public transit go down?

    To put it another way, if magically one day every Angelino quits driving and opt to take the bus or rail, will LA Metro be making profit to become self reliant, or will it continue to ask for more tax hikes?

    It won’t make sense if gas prices go up to $4 or $5 per gallon yet taxes in LA County still gets jacked up to 20% to keep the transit system running.

  7. On the one hand, I’d like to agree…but what else would the APTA say?

    “Save our budgets, give our friends some money.”

    Honestly, if agencies could cut off the fat, and widdle down the hyper-inflated budgets, we could get a more work done with much more modest dollar amounts.

    I can only speak for the CEQA/NEPA side of transit projects, since that’s all I work on, but the budgets are really quite ridiculously over-priced. It bewilders me that Metro (and other public agencies for that matter) are so far detached from the process that they allow themselves to get scammed by consultants for such obscene amounts. Surely their in-house experts know that the labor hours on most of these proposals are blown far out of proportion.

    Sorry for the rant, but it’s been on my nerves lately!