Monday, March 17, 2008

Public transit use in the U.S. highest in 50 years

There was an interesting piece written on public transit use in the United States on Salon last week, writing after it became known that public transit use in the US is at its highest level in 50 years (largely thanks to rising gas prices and a struggling economy, according to some).

Most interesting was the examination of why, despite the fact that the population is now double what it was in 1957, public transit use had been so low since then:

But I was most struck by the news that fifty years ago American reliance on public transportation was so high. The U.S. population has almost doubled since then, from around 172 million to today's 302 million. So on a public-transport-ride per capita basis, the U.S. is still nowhere near the heights reached in the 1950s.

So what happened? Here's one clue. In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the Federal Highway Aid Act, which authorized the creation of the United States Interstate Highway System.

Isn't that a lovely synchronicity? The Interstate system is born, and almost immediately, public transportation in the United States embarks on a long decline.

Although rising gas prices have been somewhat offset by the growing Canadian dollar, the continued rise should inevitably encourage people onto public transit. Which means that OC Transpo needs to improve service in order to greet new commuters with open arms--or open doors.

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