PORTLAND -- Transit ridership is soaring across the country reaching its highest level in decades, except, that is, in transit-friendly Portland.
Americans are using trains, streetcars and buses at the highest level since 1956, according to a study released Monday by the American Public Transportation Association.
There are many reasons for the gains. Transit services have now fully recovered from cutbacks made in the Great Recession. Following a stream of federal funding, cities and regions have expanded bus and train networks. Meanwhile, there’s been a demographic shift of Americans living in cities, rather than suburbs.
Since 1995 public transit ridership is up 37.2 percent, outpacing population growth, by 17 percent and driving by 15 percent, according to the APTA.
Sprawling cities of Houston, Los Angeles and Miami saw increases in ridership but so did smaller cities like Lewisville TX and Stockton CA.
Ironically, Portland, a region that pioneered mass transit for mid-sized American cities, has actually saw a decline in transit use over the past year.
In the 1980s, the metro area was one of the first regions in the country to build a modern light rail system. In the 1990s it pioneered a modern streetcar revival movement that’s spread to dozens of U.S. cities. But according to the APTA, transit ridership is down in the region more than 6 percent.
TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch said the declines are due to the agency killing off its free transit zone in 2012, recent fare increases and service cuts.
Joe Cortright, an economist who specializes in the economics of cities and urban regions, speculates that Portland's bike ethusiasm may be a factor as well.
"Biking may be cannibalizing that as well," Cortright said. "Those are people who might normally ride transit.”
While bikes and a transit agency that's still operating in Great Recession mode could be slowing things, there are some gains in the metro area.
Fetsch said the TriMet has added back some bus service in Sept. 2013 and saw a 1 percent increase in MAX ridership over the winter.
The Westside Express Service commuter rail, a 14 mile, heavy rail service that links Beaverton and Wilsonville, saw a 10 percent jump in service in 2013.
But perhaps that just means the Westside needs more bike paths.