Interesting article from the Associated Press. For those who want a summary rather than read the entire article, people are altering their habits in the face of higher gasoline prices. While it's only a start, there's more to come. Essentially this is a demand reaction. When demand falls off, prices come down and I bet they'll come down pretty hard.
Gas Price Jump Boosts Use of Mass Transit
Friday September 16, 5:39 pm ET
Increase in Gasoline Prices Drives Surge in Use of Public Transportation
NEW YORK (AP) -- Early this month, when Hurricane Katrina sent gasoline prices soaring above $3, officials at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority put out an advisory warning commuters about overcrowded trains.
The Metro, the Washington-area subway and commuter rail system, had already broken a string of ridership records this year, and officials worried that increased ridership in the wake of the latest spike at the pump would crowd trains even more.
"It's costing people twice as much per gallon of gasoline today as it did about a year ago, and so the likelihood that more people will look to Metro to get them to work, to meetings or to a ball game is greater now than it was just a few weeks ago," Metro General Manager and Chief Executive Richard White warned, urging commuters to avoid the Metro during rush hour.
Despite the warning, ridership on the Metro during the first two weeks of September was up more than 4 percent from August and more than 10 percent from a year ago.
Transit agencies around the country are reporting an unusual spike in ridership on buses, light rail, commuter trains and city-run vans. The Environmental Protection Agency confirms the trend, reporting a surge in employee demand for company transit benefits.
To be sure, the number of new riders is small relative to the population. Only 5 percent of the American work force uses public transportation every day. But that's still 32 million trips a day, so a 4 percent increase in ridership this year and next, as projected by the American Public Transportation Association, adds up.
The issue is of critical importance for oil markets. U.S. drivers consume more than one out of every 10 barrels of oil produced in the world. And with most producers and refiners near capacity, whether the long rally endures turns almost entirely upon the health of demand.
Mass-transit ridership had been rising by about 2 percent a year on the strength of the economic rebound and growing job market. But beginning this summer, the gains started accelerating and then spiked higher late last month.
For many drivers, the arrival of $3 gasoline proved the breaking point, said Joe Schwieterman, a transportation economist at DePaul University near Chicago.
"They realized that small adjustments to driving habits weren't going to be enough," Schwieterman said. "Many simply parked the car and opted for transit."
Officials from more than a dozen small and big transit authorities -- from New York City's Metro-North Railroad to Tulsa Transit's bus system to Los Angeles's Metro-Link commuter rail -- confirm they have seen some of the biggest increases in ridership in years.
In August, Metro-North, the commuter rail linking the New York and Connecticut suburbs to New York City, saw its biggest ridership increase in nearly four years. More surprisingly, monthly pass sales jumped 5 percent, representing 4,000 new customers. All this came despite a fare hike of about 6 percent.
"We do believe that the high costs of gasoline are driving those numbers, no pun intended," Metro-North spokesman Dan Brucker said.
The Long Island Rail Road, the nation's largest commuter rail system, declined to disclose data on August ridership. But according to spokesman Sam Zambuto, "crews are reporting that the trains are more crowded in all time periods."
In Dallas, an increase in ridership in the past month on DART has resulted in "incredibly creative parking at some outlying stations," and the service received a growing number of complaints from motorists demanding to know why the system doesn't serve their destinations, according to DART spokesman Morgan Lyons.
The Trinity Railway Express, a commuter rail service between Dallas and Fort Worth, has benefited even more from high gasoline prices, posting a 15 percent increase in ridership so far this month, Lyons says.
In famously car-addicted Los Angeles, ridership on city buses and subways jumped 7.82 percent in August, while ridership on the Metro-Link, the regional commuter rail service for the metropolitan area, rose 6 percent, the largest monthly increase since last November.
In Tulsa, a city of 800,000 people with no rail system, bus ridership has been climbing at an unprecedented rate. Last week, Tulsa Transit reported that daily ridership on city buses was up more than 15 percent since June and 36 percent over the past year.