Yes, I know the above video may seem silly... But we can't laugh at the success of San Diego County's Metropolitan Transit System (MTS), which so far has handled 3.6 million more trips in Fiscal Year 2012 than in FY 2011. And San Diego isn't the only metropolitan area where drivers are converting to mass transit commuters.
Ridership on the nation's trains and buses hit one of the highest levels in decades, with officials crediting high gas prices, a stronger economy and new technology that makes riding public transit easier.
In 2011, Americans took 10.4 billion trips on mass transit -- which includes buses, trains, street cars and ferries, according to the American Public Transportation Association.
That's a 2.3% increase over 2010 and just shy of the number of trips in 2008, when gasoline spiked to a record national average of $4.11 a gallon.
"As people get jobs and go back to work, they get on mass transit more," said Michael Melaniphy, president of APTA. "And then when people look at gas prices, they really get on transit more."
And as worries over climate change, smog, gas prices, and just plain traffic jams continue to grow, cities like Los Angeles are finding opportunities in expanding mass transit options to service increasing demand for efficient mass transit. Later this month, LA Metro Rail will be expanding service with a new light rail line from Downtown LA to Culver City.
We're even seeing this phenomenon of renewed use of public transportation hit here in Nevada.
Mark Harris, who has caught the intercity bus at Meadowood Mall to ride to his job at the Public Utilities Commission in Carson City for the last five years or so, notices the difference.
“I’m seeing more people riding it more days during the week. I’m seeing more people ride it every day,” Harris said.
To him, catching the bus is a no-brainer. It saves money and avoids stress.
“You’re not wearing out your car, you’re not buying as much fuel, and in the wintertime, you don’t have to drive in whiteout conditions,” Harris said. “You can sleep, relax, read the paper. It’s a much better 40-minute experience than having to drive.”
Ronald Zendejas of Reno started using RTC RIDE more often a few months ago and now rides the bus to get to school, to shop, or to do most anything.
“I’ve been riding it a lot more, actually,” Zendejas said. “I use it pretty much wherever I’ve got to go. It’s not as fast, but it works. It gets me there.”
To Zendejas, it’s a matter of dollars and cents. He buys a monthly bus pass for $60 but could easily drop $40 during a single stop at the pump.
After slumping in 2009 and 2010, ridership for RTC Ride in Washoe County is on the rebound. And considering the rising demand for mass transit here in Nevada, we'd be preparing to offer more services to more riders. But sadly, that's not the case. Instead, RTC Ride in Washoe is facing financial woes and difficult decisions on how to fund future transit operations. Meanwhile down south, RTC Southern Nevada is facing public anger over proposed rate hikes and cuts in paratransit service... Again, despite increasing ridership.
It really doesn't make sense to punish transit riders for choosing to use mass transit. I mean, isn't that what we want? Don't we want less clutter on our streets and freeways? Don't we want cleaner air and fewer greenhouse gas emissions? Why would we do something to discourage people from using RTC in Reno and Las Vegas?
I have a confession to make. I have a stake in this myself, as I regularly use mass transit. I don't even drive, as I'd rather not pay through the nose (for everything from gas to insurance) and feel guilty while doing so. It's sometimes difficult to make this work, especially when trying to get to places not covered well by RTC. But so far in my last three years living here, it's mostly worked.
By using RTC instead of driving everywhere, I'm helping reduce traffic on I-15 and I-215 while contributing more money to the local economy (instead of seeing it disappear at the gas pump). So why does it look like I'm about to be punished? And why does it look like the many other thousands of transit riders in Northern and Southern Nevada are about to be punished for using mass transit? It just doesn't make sense.
Especially when Nevadans are complaining about high gas prices and continuing traffic snarls, shouldn't we be working to provide more transit alternatives?