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Gas Prices & Transit Ridership: New Report Details The Connection

Eric Jaffe reports on new research by urban travel behavior expert Bradley Lane of U. of Texas/El Paso on elasticity of gas prices and bus and rail ridership. Interestingly, rail ridership spiked twice as much as bus ridership when gas prices rose.
December 4, 2011, 11am PST | Irvin Dawid
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More well-known is the connection of land use, particularly residential density, to public transit, than gas prices, adding to the value of Lane's research. Lane's premise is that America's love for the automobile can partially be attributed to the underpricing of gasoline. In addition to elasticity, Lane reports on the 'lagged effect' - the fact "that some elasticities - such as switching your commute from car to train - don't appear until several months after the initial change in fuel cost."

"Lane examined fluctuations in gas prices in 33 U.S. cities during a period stretching from January 2002 to March 2009. He then compared these changes to transit ridership patterns in the same cities over the same time.

In all cities he looked at bus ridership, while in 21 places, including Los
Angeles and Chicago and Washington, he considered rail travel as well.

Lane found a pretty strong link between changes in gas prices and shifts in transit ridership. Every 10 percent increase in fuel costs led to an increase in bus ridership of up to 4 percent, and a spike in rail travel of up to 8 percent. ..."

From report abstract: "The results indicate a small but consistently significant amount of transit ridership fluctuation is due to gasoline prices... There is considerable variability across cities in the magnitude of the effect on transit ridership...The results are discussed in light of their implications for transit operations, using cost to influence travel behavior, and transportation sustainability."

Thanks to Pat Carstensen

Full Story:
Published on Thursday, December 1, 2011 in The Atlantic Cities
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