Public transportation ridership surges in wake of Katrina |

Public transportation ridership surges in wake of Katrina

Staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON – One of Hurricane Katrina’s legacies may be crowded commutes around the country.

More people rode subways, buses and trains last summer after gasoline prices spiked, and many continued to take mass transportation even after those prices fell, according to figures from the American Public Transportation Association.

Carson City’s fledgling fixed-route bus service, Jump Around Carson, registered an increase of 11 percent in December – its third month of operation.

Average gas prices rose all summer after breaking $2 a gallon in late March, soaring to $3.07 during the week of Sept. 5, in the aftermath of Katrina. The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline was $2.55 during those months, up from $1.85 a year before.

“When it spikes, that gets people’s attention,” said Mantill Williams, AAA spokesman.

From July through September 2005, there were 3.3 percent more trips on public transportation across the country than there were during the same period in 2004, according to APTA.

Locally, higher gas prices likely didn’t play a significant factor in causing the number of JAC riders to go up to 3,394 during December compared to 3,111 in November, according to city. The biggest rise was in the number of disabled bus riders. Their usage went up 51 percent, said Michael Dulude, Carson City transit planner.

The number of adults ages 18-60 using JAC grew by more than 19 percent, Dulude said.

JAC began operating in October for free and started charging passengers for the service in November. Roughly 4,000 people rode the bus for free from Oct. 3-31 during the service’s promotional period.

Reno was among more than 25 transit systems showing double-digit ridership increases – 12.9 percent – from November 2004 to November 2005, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Other cities reporting increases include Dallas (14.9 percent), Houston (14.9 percent), Kansas City, Mo. (13 percent), Salt Lake City (17.7 percent), and Tulsa, Okla. (22 percent).

In some places, such as Washington and Los Angeles, ridership grew dramatically: 9.1 percent more people used Washington Metro from July through September, and 9 percent more boarded Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses and trains than they had the previous summer.

Though gasoline prices fell to $2.22 in November, they were still higher than they were a year ago – $1.93 a gallon in November 2004.

“It looks like the riders stuck,” said William Millar, APTA president.

Transit ridership goes up and down, depending on gas prices, weather and the economy.

Alan Pisarski, a Washington-based national transportation policy analyst, said high gasoline prices will prompt some people to try mass transportation.

“A certain percentage of the population will say, ‘Hey, it works for me,”‘ Pisarski said.

In Carson, the drop between October and November, and the subsequent rise from November to December didn’t surprise Dulude.

Initially, “people got caught by the sticker shock, per se. They were put off for a little bit. Then they ended up thinking it over and then realized it’s not as bad as they originally thought and start riding again,” he said.

During the New Year’s weekend flood, JAC was taken out of service because many of the streets on its route were impassible though the buses were ready and waiting in case evacuations were necessary, Dulude said.

“Fortunately, it wasn’t needed,” he added.

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