Rising Ridership Reveals Creaky Transit Systems

October 24, 2008, 7am PDT | Tim Halbur
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"The rise in mass transit ridership should be great news. Not since the OPEC oil embargo and energy crisis in the '70s have famously car-centric Americans been so eager to shell out for a bus fare or a train ticket and leave the polluter in the driveway. Automobile transportation is one of the largest chunks of the country's carbon footprint, so the more that Americans opt for trains and buses, the more that footprint could shrink.

But the news isn't all that sunny. In fact, the mini-exodus from driving has exposed significant cracks in the country's mass transit systems, which are struggling to accommodate new riders. Having spent decades forsaking the bus and the train for the convenience and privacy of cars, Americans are now finding that the buses, streetcars, trolleys and trains that they left behind are strapped for cash, if they still exist at all.

'All across the country, public transportation systems are experiencing capacity problems,' says Virginia Miller, a spokeswoman for the American Public Transportation Association. 'Due to the high costs of fuel, systems' budgets are being severely impacted.' A survey of 115 of the association's members found that 60 percent of the systems are considering fare increases, while 35 percent are experiencing service cuts. 'It's ironic that at a time of record ridership we don't have the funding to expand public transportation systems,' says Miller."

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Published on Thursday, October 23, 2008 in Salon.com
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