USA Today: Drivers flocking to mass transit due to high fuel prices

USA Today article here.

Drivers switch to public transit
Updated 4/25/2006 2:23 PM ET
By Barbara Hagenbaugh

WASHINGTON — Soaring gas prices appear, once again, to be leading some drivers to park their cars.
Public transit systems across the USA are seeing an increase in ridership. Although it’s difficult to directly link the gains to higher gasoline prices, officials say rising prices at the pump are at least partly responsible.

Nationwide, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline was $2.90 Sunday, up 1.6 cents from Saturday and 39.1 cents higher than a month ago, according to AAA. Statewide averages were $3 a gallon or higher in Hawaii, California, Washington, D.C., and New York.

Among mass transit systems:

Washington, D.C. Thursday was the sixth-busiest day in history on Metrorail, the area’s train system, while Tuesday was the ninth busiest. There were no special events in the area to explain the higher ridership. “We think gas prices had something to do with it,” Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority spokeswoman Candace Smith says.

Salt Lake City. Ridership is up 50% on the 19-mile, light-rail system in Salt Lake City from a year ago. The Utah Transit Authority has added 10 used rail cars it bought from San Jose, Calif., to meet demand. But in some cases, cars are becoming so packed that the doors are dragging on the platforms at stops because of the increased weight, spokesman Justin Jones says.

Riders responding to onboard polling increasingly are saying they are motivated to take public transportation because of higher gas prices, Jones says.

Tulsa. Tulsa Transit’s March ridership was the highest since August 2003. For the fiscal year, which began in July, trips on the bus system are up 28% from the prior year.

San Francisco. After taking a “nosedive” in recent years, ridership on Bay Area Rapid Transit is up 4.1% this fiscal year, which began July 1, spokesman Linton Johnson says. He attributes the gain to heavier traffic and higher gas prices.

The increase in ridership, or number of trips, is similar to last year when gasoline prices hit record levels, William Millar, of the American Public Transportation Association, says. The number of trips nationwide was up 5% in August and September compared with the same months in 2004. “It looks like history is repeating itself,” he says. “The spike in gas prices is causing many people to look for ways to beat the high cost, and trying transit is one of the things they are doing.”

Gasoline prices are climbing largely because oil prices have reached record levels, not adjusted for inflation. Oil, which closed at $75.17 a barrel Friday, accounts for about half the cost of gasoline.

Also boosting the cost of gasoline has been the conversion from additive MTBE to ethanol in many gasoline blends. Although ethanol production has been ramping up, there are concerns that there won’t be enough ethanol at the right place and the right time.

There have been reports of East Coast gasoline stations shutting down temporarily in recent days as their suppliers close to make the switch to ethanol.