So, with gas prices going up to record levels, is transit suddenly becoming a silver bullet?
NO, says Randal O’Toole. Here’s why:
"Journalists are all gaga over reports of a 4 percent decline in driving and a 3.4 percent increase in transit ridership. But do the math: transit only carries about 1.5 percent of urban travel. Increase that by 3.4 percent and you can’t come close to making up for a 4 percent decline in the other 90-some percent.
Put it another way: APTA reports 86 million more transit rides in the first quarter of 2008 over the same quarter of 2007. The average transit ride is about 5.3 miles, to that’s about 455 million passenger miles.
Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration reports Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer miles in the first quarter of 2008 than in the same quarter of 2007. At an average occupancy of 1.6 people per car, that’s 15.4 billion passenger miles. The increase in transit ridership made up for only 3 percent of that amount.
Oh yes, that 4 percent drop in driving? It was for March, 2008 (the declines in January and February were only about 1 percent). But APTA’s report for March shows a 0.8 percent drop in transit ridership from March 2007. That’s some rescue!
Transit is not replacing driving because transit doesn’t go where people want to go when they want to go there. Instead of substituting transit for driving, people are trip chaining, carpooling, or just skipping low-priority trips.
Even to the extent that a few people take transit instead of driving, they aren’t saving energy. As the Antiplanner has shown, most transit uses as much if not more energy as cars. So if you ride transit, you are merely making someone else pay your fuel bill."