Those are the latest numbers released today by the American Public Transportation Association. The ridership level is the highest since 2008, when gas prices were more than $4 a gallon, and the second highest since 1957. APTA also reports that the total number of vehicle miles traveled declined by 1.2 percent last year.
Higher gas prices and more people going to work in a recovering economy are two of the biggest reasons for the increase. But APTA says that technology that makes transit easier to use might also factor into the increase.
“The exponential growth of apps to track bus and rail arrival times is demystifying the ridership experience and attracting new customers to public transportation," said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy, in a statement. "More and more people are now able to find out when the next bus and train will arrive through public transit apps. This is making public transportation more attractive."
Looking at specific modes of transit, light rail (including streetcars and trolleys) lead the way with a 4.9 percent increase, followed by heavy rail (subways and elevated trains) at 3.3 percent, commuter rail at 2.5 percent, and large bus systems at 0.4 percent.
All these increases come despite the fact that transit agencies are increasing fares and decreasing service because of budget cuts. Melaniphy told USA Today, "Can you imagine what ridership growth would have been like if they hadn't had to do those fare increases and service cuts?"
For information on ridership in specific cities, read APTA's complete 2011 ridership report.