By Philip Newman
It was 1956 and Los Angles was shutting down its famous Pacific Electric Red Cars rail system while Kansas City sold its street cars to a Belgian company.
In many smaller cities, bus systems barely survived. The Salina, Kan., bus company appealed at bus stops to motorists, “Please don’t pick up people waiting here. They are our customers.”
City dwellers in the millions fell in love with the car and moved to the suburbs.
But 58 years have passed and public transportation is making a comeback.
The American Public Transportation Association reported that in 2013 Americans took more trips on public transportation than any time since Dwight Eisenhower was president.
The APTA reported that Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation, the highest annual public transit ridership since 1956.
“There is a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities,” said Michael Melaniphy, chairman of the APTA.
Melaniphy said the change did not come overnight but rather has been edging upward, particularly in the last 10 years.
“This is a long-term trend. This is not just a blip,” he said.
“Access to public transportation matters” Melaniphy said. “More and more people value living close to a transit line. Community leaders know that public transportation investment drives community growth and economic revitalization.”
Melaniphy said it was not that Americans have abandoned their cars, but “it’s that they now have options as to how they get around.”
“The federal investment in public transportation is paying off and that is why Congress needs to act this year to pass a new transportation bill,” Melaniphy said.
New York City, where all forms of transportation operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were up by 3.6 percent last year, leads the nation in use of federal transit money with construction of the Second Avenue subway and the East Side Access project to bring the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal.
Transit agencies in Los Angeles; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Cleveland; Denver; New Orleans; Oakland; Riverside, Calif.; Salt Lake City; Tampa; New York City; Pompano Beach, Fla.; San Carlos, Calif.; Yuma, Ariz.; and Espanola, N.M., reported record numbers of trips.