Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders to Mass Transit

Peak Oil

Saw this article in the NY Times this morning about how ridership is WAY up as a result of surging gas prices:

“Mass transit systems around the country are seeing standing-room-only crowds on bus lines where seats were once easy to come by. Parking lots at many bus and light rail stations are suddenly overflowing, with commuters in some towns risking a ticket or tow by parking on nearby grassy areas and in vacant lots.

‘In almost every transit system I talk to, we’re seeing very high rates of growth the last few months,’ said William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.

‘It’s very clear that a significant portion of the increase in transit use is directly caused by people who are looking for alternatives to paying $3.50 a gallon for gas.’

Some cities with long-established public transit systems, like New York and Boston, have seen increases in ridership of 5 percent or more so far this year. But the biggest surges — of 10 to 15 percent or more over last year — are occurring in many metropolitan areas in the South and West where the driving culture is strongest and bus and rail lines are more limited.”

Read the full article here.

We’re all anxiously awaiting the opening of the light-rail system here in Phoenix. It’s supposed to start running in December of this year. The Cathedral I serve is right on one of the major stops, and I live about a mile from a park-and-ride station.

I’m already pricing out the cost of an electric scooter.

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  1. Paul Martin says

    A week or two ago, the same paper had an article on changes in auto sales. Large SUVs are out of favor, and sales of fuel efficient subcompacts are booming. This is good news; the market is working. Long term, high gas prices will have a greater effect on conservation and alternative sources than any number of public service announcements.
    Unfortunately, light rail takes a long time to build, and a nation’s inventory of cars and trucks doesn’t turn over quickly. We also have entire cities which were designed around the automobile, making the transition more difficult. We have a lot of work to do, and we have to be careful about the burdens we place on the less fortunate.

  2. Thanks Paul. You’re right. We’re pretty much backed into a corner and there’s not going to be a path forward that doesn’t require significant economic disruption.
    That said, there’s no time like the present to get started. For what it’s worth, the urban poor are probably better situated right now more than pretty much any other major demographic group to manage with the increased rise in energy prices. It’s going to be the people who overbought homes in the tertiary suburbs that are in the most trouble.
    Perhaps the new administration in Washington will be willing to recognize that the most effective way forward will be to help out the broadest coalition of people possible. I’m sensing that the days of trickle-down economic policies and special breaks for cronies are coming to a very quick close.

  3. Paul Martin says

    Nick, you seem to be assuming that those who are buying houses in the tertiary suburbs are commuting into the central city to work. That’s not necessarily true. Some people live out there because that is where the jobs are. A modern factory (e.g. an Intel fab) requires a lot of land, and land is expensive downtown.
    I admit that my own work experience may be atypical, but we live in a very diverse economy. I don’t think the effects of this shift in energy costs are going to be very predictable.

  4. Paul, I am thinking that commuting costs are going to be significant for folks living in the outer suburbs. My own observation of highway congestion from the suburbs to the downtown, and the lack of any industry in the tertiary suburbs (out here in the southwest at least) probably are behind my thinking.
    But I’m not sure it makes a difference. Even if the people in the outer ring suburbs were able to work at home, there’s still the question of food distribution, medical services, education, etc. Unless the out suburbs hit the population density of the cities, I can’t imagine there’s a way around that problem.
    But your meta-point is more than likely right. There’s probably a number of unexpected ramifications to come from increasing energy prices. Just like the effect that corn for gas programs seem to be having.

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