Click above to enlarge; click here for another chart

Even though gas prices aren't up in the stratosphere of where they were early this year - and oil prices are down even more dramatically - some Americans know that public transportation is a good option when driving your own car becomes too expensive. According to a new survey commissioned by the HNTB Companies, a lot of people (11 percent of the adult population, or 24 million Americans) are using public transportation more in 2008 than they did in 2007. The good news for bus drivers and railroad operators is that 16 percent of people surveyed said they expect to ride even more rail/buses next year. As you can see in the chart above (click here for a larger version), gas prices made the biggest impact on why people ride, but more than one in ten now think that taking the train or bus is more convenient than driving. That's more than I expected, but a number I like to see.

[Source: HNTB Companies]


Americans Getting on Board With Public Transportation

National survey shows public transit usage is rising and will accelerate next year

KANSAS CITY, Mo., Oct. 7 /PRNewswire/ -- Rather than wait for an electric car or better biofuels, millions of Americans are saving money and time by switching to public transportation.

According to a new nationwide survey commissioned by the HNTB Companies, more than 24 million Americans -- 11 percent of the adult population -- are using buses, light rail, commuter rail and other forms of public transportation more than they did last year. An even greater percentage of survey respondents, 16 percent, said they expect their ridership to increase in the coming year.

"As today's Americans face increasing demands on their time and money, riding public transit is shifting from something they should do, like eating their vegetables, to something they want to do," said Peter Gertler, vice president and national director of public transit services for HNTB Corporation.

Nearly one in three Americans (32 percent) said their biggest motivator to choose public transportation over driving would be high gas prices. While conventional wisdom holds Americans would find it frustrating to give up the convenience of a car, the survey found the second most popular reason someone would choose public transportation over driving is more convenience (14 percent). Avoiding traffic (5 percent) was a distant third, followed by concern for the environment (4 percent).

"For more than 50 years, the automobile has ruled the transportation landscape," Gertler said. "Our interstate highways are aging and under tremendous strain, and we're seeing the costs of an unbalanced transportation system. Now more than ever we need to invest in multiple modes of transportation that address modern demands and preserve our quality of life."

Gertler cited several benefits in a balanced approach to transportation that includes public transit:

-- Saves time and conserves fuel -- 541 million hours and 340 million gallons, according to the Texas Transportation Institute's 2007 Urban Mobility Report.

-- Saves money -- Americans living in areas served by public transportation save $18 billion annually in congestion costs.

-- Promotes cleaner air -- Public transit usage reduces U.S. carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons a year, equivalent to the electricity used by 4.9 million households.

Measuring transit trends across the country
The survey also found:

-- More than twice as many men as women (15 percent versus 7 percent) say they're using public transit more often than a year ago.

-- Young Americans are making the transition in greater numbers. Nearly one in five adults ages 18-34 have increased their public transit usage in the last year (19 percent); that's more than twice the number of Americans ages 35 and up who can make the same claim (8 percent).

-- The average American who has public transportation available to them uses it once a week, in effect giving their car the day off.

-- Nearly four in ten Northeasterners (38 percent) use public transportation, more than any other region in the country.

-- Southerners, however, have fewer options. One in ten says they do not have public transit where they live or work. That's twice the number of Northeasterners and Westerners (5 percent each), and nearly twice of those in the Midwest (6 percent).

About the Survey

The HNTB Companies public transit survey polled a random nationwide sample of 1,000 Americans Sept. 24-29, 2008. The survey was conducted by Kelton Research, which used an e-mail invitation and an online survey. Quotas are set to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total U.S. population ages 18 and over. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent.

About the HNTB Companies

The HNTB Companies is an employee-owned organization of infrastructure firms. The three operating companies of HNTB Companies include HNTB Corporation, a transportation, engineering, planning and construction management firm; HNTB Architecture Inc., whose design professionals provide services to the buildings market; and HNTB Federal Services Corporation, which provides federal-sector clients diverse infrastructure services. The HNTB Companies employ nearly 4,000 people in more than 60 offices nationwide.

HNTB works on many of the nation's top public transit projects, including MetroLink in St. Louis, Mo.; Caltrain in San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.; and Sound Transit in Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.

For more information about the HNTB Companies, visit

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