AATA garners national attention for ridership gains with more than 6.6 million rides in 2012
The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has set a new record with a more than 6.6 million rides clocked in calendar year 2012.
According to new report by the American Public Transportation Association, that's an increase of 6.6 percent over 2011 and part of more than 10.5 billion total rides provided throughout the U.S. last year — the nation's second-highest annual ridership figure since 1957.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
Melaniphy said the 2012 numbers (154.4 million rides higher than 2011) show growing demand for public transit in all areas of the country — in small, medium and large communities.
"Public transportation saves people money, and people save even more when gas prices spike," he said. "Also, since nearly 60 percent of trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes, it makes sense that ridership increases in areas where the economy has improved and new jobs have been created."
The AATA's record ridership includes both fixed-route bus service and demand response service, and garnered national attention in a recent CNN news report. The report highlighted big increases in Ann Arbor, Nashville, Los Angeles, Boston and New York.
Al McWilliams, president of Quack!Media in downtown Ann Arbor, employs a team of young professionals, several of whom regularly use the AATA for travel within Ann Arbor. One of his employees commutes solely via bus from Ypsilanti.
"Our parents moved to the 'burbs where we grew up riding around in cars. My generation is going the other way. It may be as simple as that," McWilliams told CNN.
“I feel more free when I take the bus. I don't have to worry about a car, where it's parked, gas or maintenance. A bus is going to come by and take me where I want to go."
AATA officials believe easy accessibility to local fixed-route bus service has contributed to the numbers, with 91 percent of Ann Arbor residents living within a quarter mile of a bus route based on 2010 census data. Other factors cited include AATA's overall on-time performance improvement (92 percent of trips were completed on time) and high interior/exterior cleanliness standards (96 percent of AATA's fleet met or exceeded customer satisfaction standards in surveys).
Beyond that, AATA officials pointed to a growing economy and a trend that more and more young people are giving up owning vehicles. According to a 2011 University of Michigan study, more than half of all licensed drivers in the U.S. were under age 40 in 1983. That number has fallen to less than 40 percent, with only about 22 percent comprised of drivers under 30.
APTA's Melaniphy said there is "a sea change going on" in the way people look at transportation, and Americans want choices.
"They want to be able to choose the best travel option for their lifestyle," he said. "This is an exciting time for the public transportation industry as more and more Americans support it and want it."
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.