A national mass transit advocacy group says rising gas prices will push up ridership on systems throughout the country including Pittsburgh. Gas prices in the Pittsburgh area are averaging about $3.59 a gallon and in some parts of the nation have topped $4. A new report by the American Public Transportation Association indicates if gas prices reach $4 on average that will lead to an additional 670 million transit trips a year. Association Vice President Art Guzzetti says if the price hits $5, it would mean an extra 1.5 billion trips annually.
"Systems of all sizes, small bus systems, small communities, big systems as well, big rail systems...it's very widespread that there will be additional transit riders across the board. I think the public is seeing that public transportation when available is the quickest way for people to beat high gas prices."
Guzzetti says a surge in gas prices in 2008 also led to a jump in demand for public transit...."As many things as we did to carry all the additional riders, there were times in certain places where the buses were full, the trains were full, we weren't able to fit them on."
A spokeswoman for the Port Authority of Allegheny County says in 2008 during the gas price spike, ridership rose by about 15%. However, the forecast increase in ridership this time around comes as PAT is getting ready to trim service by 15% on March 27th.
Art Guzzetti of the American Public Transportation Association says the rising gas prices should be a wake up call...
"It might hit $4 a gallon, it might not. My guess is it will. But certainly in the future we're going to be back on this road again, and it might not stop at 4. So, we have to look to the future and have a balanced system, a system that has more options, more public transportation."
Guzzetti added that higher gas prices are a factor in the short term rise in mass transit use but the long term trend, over the last 15 years, is ridership is increasing more quickly than vehicle miles travelled and far outpacing the rate of population growth overall.