Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Americans Are Riding the Rails. And That's Smart!

A few months ago, when gasoline was at $4.00 a gallon ($5 here on Maui!), there were a great many reports about people getting out of their cars and turning to public transit, including light rail and commuter trains.

But then the price of gas started to come down and pro-transit folks began shuffling their feet nervously. Gee, will cheaper gas mean a reverse trend away from rail and back to the family car?

Well, we apparently have the answer: a resounding No! According to the Federal Highway Administration, Americans have stuck with public transit even with lower gas prices.

Comparing 2008 to last year, the number of transit trips was up 3.4 percent in the first quarter and 5.2 percent in the second quarter. And ridership continues to build. The months of July, August and September this year recorded a 6.5 percent increase over the same period last year. Use of transit was up everywhere, but up by double digits in nine cities, including – Are you ready for this? – Los Angeles, where ridership on their light rail system was up over 15 percent.

So if transit is up, automobile use must therefore be down ... and the implications of that are profound.

According to the Department of Transportation, Americans have driven 62.6 billion fewer miles so far this year compared to last. Assuming an average of 18 miles per gallon, that’s 3.5 billion gallons of gas we didn’t use this year. At an average of 3 bucks a gallon, it also means we saved almost 10.5 billion dollars. We could even call that our own individual bail-out.

Then of course, there’s less wear-and-tear on the family car and the environmental benefits from the reduction in all those polluting emissions.

Oh, yes … it also means less oil we have to buy from our dear friends, the Saudis!

Is that a win-win-win, or what!

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