A cyclist waiting to get on a tram in Portland, Oregon

A cyclist waiting to get on a tram in Portland, Oregon.

The use of buses, subways and trams is increasing in American cities. Last year saw the highest annual number of users of public transit in 57 years, according to new statistics from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

10.7 billion trips were taken in 2013 by Americans on public transport which translated to a 1.1% increase in the number of vehicle miles travelled on the previous year. This compares to a 0.3% increase in vehicle miles travelled on roads.

Public transportation includes subways and light rails.

“There is a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities. People in record numbers are demanding more public transit services and communities are benefiting with strong economic growth,” commented APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy upon the figures. “Access to public transportation matters. Community leaders know that public transportation investment drives community growth and economic revitalization.”

Peter Varga, APTA Chair and CEO of The Rapid in Grand Rapids, MI, added: "Americans in growing numbers want to have more public transit services in their communities. Public transportation systems nationwide – in small, medium, and large communities – saw ridership increases. Some reported all-time high ridership numbers.”

Some of the cities listing record ridership increases, either across their whole networks or on specific lines, were located in the following cities:

  • Ann Arbor, MI;
  • Cleveland, OH;
  • Denver, CO;
  • Espanola, NM;
  • Flagstaff, AZ;
  • Fort Myers, FL;
  • Indianapolis, IN;
  • Los Angeles, CA;
  • New Orleans, LA;
  • Oakland, CA;
  • Pompano Beach, FL;
  • Riverside, CA;
  • Salt Lake City, UT;
  • San Carlos, CA;
  • Tampa, FL;
  • Yuma, AZ;
  • and New York, NY.

For example, bus ridership in Ohio's four largest cities all saw increases last year, with Cincinnati leading the way, were bus ridership jumped by 3.5 percent last year, to more than 16.9 million rides - over triple the 1 percent nationwide increase. Cleveland also eclipsed the national increase, experiencing a 1.5 percent jump in bus rides last year to more than 39.6 million.

Since 1995 public transit ridership across the United States has increased by 37.2 percent, outpacing population growth (20.3 percent up), and vehicle miles traveled (22.7 percent up).

“There is a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities. People in record numbers are demanding more public transit services and communities are benefiting with strong economic growth,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy.

“Access to public transportation matters,” continued Melaniphy. “Community leaders know that public transportation investment drives community growth and economic revitalization.”

Heavy rail (subways and elevated trains) ridership saw an increase as well, ofy 2.8 percent across the country as 8 out of 15 transit systems reported increases.

Heavy rail in Miami, FL, saw an increase of 10.6 percent, mostly due to increased frequency during peak service. Other heavy rail systems with increases in ridership for 2013 were in:

  • Los Angeles, CA (4.8%);
  • New York, NY (4.2%);
  • Cleveland, OH (2.9%).

Commuting by rail also rose in 2013, by 2.1 percent, as 20 out of 28 transit systems reported increases.

In Salt Lake city, Utah, a new rail line opened in December 2012, causing a jump of 103.3 percent in rail miles travelled. In total, five commuter rail systems saw double digit increases in 2013:

  • Austin, TX (37.3%);
  • Harrisburg-Philadelphia, PA (33.9%);
  • Anchorage, AK (30.0%);
  • Lewisville, TX (23.0%);
  • Stockton, CA (19.9%);
  • Minneapolis, MN (12.5%);
  • and Portland, OR (10.3%).

Light rail (modern streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys) ridership was up by 1.6 percent, with 17 out of 27 transit systems reporting increases. Double digit increases in 2013 were found in:

  • New Orleans, LA (28.9%);
  • Denver, CO (14.9%);
  • and San Diego, CA (10.4%).
  • Light rail ridership also increased in these cities: 
  • Seattle, WA – Sound Transit (9.8%);
  • Pittsburgh, PA (7.5%);
  • Salt Lake City, UT (6.8%);
  • Los Angeles, CA (6.0%);
  • San Jose, CA (3.6%);
  • Philadelphia, PA (3.5%).

The number of people riding buses increased by 3.8 percent in cities with a population of below 100,000.

Nationally, bus ridership in communities of all sizes remained stable, with a slight decline of 0.1 percent.

Large bus systems with increases were located in the following areas: Washington, DC (3.5%);

  • Houston, TX (3.4%);
  • Cincinnati, OH (3.4%);
  • and Seattle, WA (3.1%). 

Demand response (paratransit) ridership increased in 2013 by 0.5 percent.

The full report can be found here.