Transit up, transit stressed, cont'd

MSNBC reported this morning on yesterday’s theme of transit ridership continuing to trend upwards, which is placing a heavy burden on a lot of systems that are running at or near capacity. As they say, transit ridership is at its highest point in 50 years right now. It’s continuing to reach new levels, but it’s important to note that it topped numbers from 50 years ago more than a year ago — almost two years now if I remember correctly. So it was on the way up well before we got to 4 dollar gasoline.

MSNBC reports on the conundrum faced by municipalities as they try to keep their transit systems running under a heavy load:

Nationwide, Americans took 2.6 billion bus, subway, commuter rail and light rail trips in the first three months of the year, 85 million more than in the same period in 2007, the American Public Transportation Association said. But it’s not clear that the nation’s transit systems are able to handle the load. While many major cities cities have invested heavily in mass transit over the past 15 years, many more have not. Now that people are demanding service, there isn’t the infrastructure to provide it.

Ryan Avent cuts to the heart of it and asks the obvious question while apparently reading the same story:

The wave of “transit ridership at record highs” stories is morphing into a wave of “underfunded transit systems struggling under crush of new demand” stories. The question is, will this next give way to a wave of “governments significantly increasing investments in transit” stories?

We sure hope so. But that road won’t be an easy one, because with gas purchases dropping and vehicle miles traveled trending downwards — even just a little bit — it results in less revenue to invest in transportation. Which also means that smarter investments are going to be more crucial than ever.

In an era of declining transportation revenue if the funding mechanism stays the same, we can’t afford more bridges to nowhere and new interstates to “out there somewhere” as our existing infrastructure crumbles and people look increasingly to public transportation that is either non-existent or struggling to meet the demand.