As gas goes up so do the transit riders:

This month, researchers from International Business Machines Corp. surveyed 4,091 drivers in 10 U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York. With national gasoline prices averaging $3.67 per gallon at the time of the survey, 9% of drivers said they already were seriously considering other commuting options. At $4.50 a gallon, the figure jumps to 46%.

At $5 a gallon it goes to 66%. This actually a problem for transit agencies who are having a hard time finding money because of lower economic activity due to the recession and are fighting higher diesel prices at the same time. From the WSJ:

After decades trying to gin up enthusiasm for their services, public transit agencies are now having trouble meeting rising demand as more commuters dodge high gasoline prices by hopping on a train or bus.

Under normal circumstances, the surge in ridership would be a boon to the agencies, which have long argued that public transit is one of the best ways to combat social ills such as traffic congestion and global warming.

But at the very moment they should be investing to expand their services, the same driver that is ballooning ridership is crippling transit budgets: steep fuel bills. As record numbers of people board buses and trains, higher costs are forcing public transit agencies to scale back on services, further straining capacity. Local transit agencies fret that the capacity problems may squander the opportunity to convert more Americans to public transportation.

The P-I editorial board hopes that Metro won’t have to cut service, I do too. I think the opportunity that could be squandered is the good will of the voters that will enable Sound Transit to win a the ballot. Electric light rail doesn’t get more expensive when diesel prices rise. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, but if service does get cut, how will we cope with our commutes?

11 Replies to “Riders Swamp Transit”

  1. >> but if service does get cut, how
    >> will we cope with our commutes?

    Ride a bike! It’s almost summer, and although it’s raining outside as I speak this, commuting by bike is way more pleasant than taking the bus. I’ve heard all the excuses before, but I think people should look into it and not dismiss it so readily.

  2. As the housing bubble unravels, home prices fall and so, too, do property tax revenues.

    The next few years are going to be very tough on states and cities, the very agencies who are being asked to provide MORE service with much less money.

  3. Some solutions
    1. Light Rail
    2. Mass Electrification of bus routes,i.e, more trolley buses.
    3. Biking
    4. Scooters
    5. At some point if diesel prices get high enough, the agencies and the unions are going to have to come to grips with the fact that their salaries and benefits will have to go down a bit or the taxes will have to go up to compensate.I mean this for everyone in the agencies from the top down to the bottom, not just the union people.
    6. Walking if you’re lucky to live close enough

  4. I am so glad that I live close enough to work to ride a bike. Transit is going to get quite crowded in the months to come…

    I don’t see why Seattle isn’t getting more serious about investing more in bike infrastructure. It’s a relatively small investment to paint a line on a road. I know many people who would be riding bikes if they just felt safer but horror stories of deaths and maulings keep them from doing so.

  5. Brad: Isn’t Metro funded by sales tax? Not that sales tax won’t also take a hit in a recession, but it should be less affected by a housing bubble burst.

  6. The housing bubble is the CAUSE of the recession.

    Property taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes, B&O taxes all will take a hit.

    At the end of the day, it’s all one pot. GDP doesn’t differentiate between flavors of revenue.

  7. I actually read this post while on the MT 8, which was overflowing. Standing room only, had to push our way out the aisles to get off.

    So yes, Seattle transit is already swamped.

  8. Yeah didn’t San Fran say if they made the buses free, so many people would ride them it would swamp the system too badly?

  9. So here’s a question: in the face of rising diesel costs, why is Metro still running diesel buses on electric routes on the weekends?

    When they started doing this a few years ago, the story was that using diesel buses would decrease operating costs. Is that still the case in the face of higher gas prices?

  10. As I rode from Ballard to Downtown yesterday in the pouring rain on a packed route 18 (I have the benefit of getting on the bus early in the route so I actually have a seat) the bus was packed by the time it reached the bridge, folks standing in front of the yellow line and on the steps to the back door. The driver had to tell a man waiting in a wheelchair “Sorry, there’s no room” (along with plenty folks standing at stops in Interbay).

    I wonder how many other packed buses passed those folks before they got a ride? I know there is dial-a-ride for folks with a phone handy, but how unfair to wait in the cold & rain for a late bus, have it pass by, with the only recourse dialing up a probably very busy Access bus and then waiting for that one to show up.

  11. Seattle’s adding bicycle facilities as part of the Bicycle Master Plan. In my neighborhood over the last few years, that’s included bike lanes or sharrows on Yesler, 19th Avenue north of Union, and more.

    Agreed we need even more city-wide, but there is work underway. You can read more at:

    including maps!

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