ANEW report by the American Public Transportation Association, an advocacy group that represents public and private groups in the industry, says that Americans took 10.2 billion trips on public transportation in 2009 - the fourth straight year that trips exceeded 10 billion.
That's good news, but it is dampened by the finding that the ridership figures represented a 3.8 percent decrease from the record-breaking tally of 2008.
It's easy to see why. APTA President William Millar said: "Considering that nearly 60 percent of riders take public transportation to commute to and from work, it is not surprising that ridership declined in light of the many Americans who lost their jobs last year." It didn't help that gasoline prices fell - an incentive for some riders to drive themselves. Cutbacks and fare increases came as consequences of a tough economy.
Nevertheless, Mr. Millar read the slight decrease optimistically. Despite the economic challenges, public support for public transit remains strong. Overall, public transportation use is up 31 percent since 1995, a figure double the rate of population growth.
It is a sad irony that the public's need and desire for public transportation occur when governments struggle to provide funding.
But after the Great Recession has become a painful memory, more Americans will need better public transportation to help make a greener and more efficient nation. Elected officials, take note: In good times or bad, public transit must keep rolling.