Mass Transit Revival

October 5, 1979

Report Outline
Ridership Gains and Energy Trends
Rise of U.S. Public Transportation
Issues Facing New Carter Team
Special Focus

Ridership Gains and Energy Trends

Patronage Increases Since 1973 Oil Crisis

Take the A-Train,” Duke Ellington's homage to the New York subway through Harlem, electrified jazz enthusiasts everywhere during the 1930s. But it did not inspire people actually to ride the subways, for this was the era in which the automobile was beginning to drive rail transit systems out of business. By the 1960s, America's commitment to the auto seemed complete, and the A-train itself had become synonymous with everything that had caused travelers to lose interest in rail: noisy and filthy carriages, and impoverished, sometimes unruly passengers. The nation's youth now swayed to the strains of “Little Deuce Coupe,” a song sung by the Beach Boys, a California rock group — in tribute to a car “with the fastest set of wheels in town.” It was a good song, but like the Ellington piece, it may also have been a swan song.

The increases in world oil prices which occurred in 1973–74 and again in 1978–79, together with improving mass transportation systems, appear to have prompted some of the nation's travelers to turn once again to public conveyances to get around both within and between cities. Ridership on urban transit systems began to rise in 1973, following nearly three decades of steady decline, and it has grown every year since then. Soaring gasoline prices this year and the reappearance of shortages pushed the trend upward. Ridership in July, for example, was up 13 percent over the same month a year earlier, marking the 24th month in a row that ridership had climbed and bringing the average growth for the first seven months of 1979 to 6.7 percent.

Patronage of public transportation between cities has been slower to improve in response to rising energy prices, except for air travel. But the latest figures indicate that people at last are beginning to look upon the country's troubled rail and bus systems in a more favorable light. Amtrak, the National Railroad Passenger Corp., carried more than two million passengers in June, a 25 percent increase over June 1978. According to Barry Williams of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, ticket revenues now are covering 47 percent of Amtrak's expenses, up from 37 percent before ridership began to increase. Commuter trains operated by Conrail, the government-created Consolidated Rail Corp., carried 10 percent more passengers in June 1979 than in the same month the previous year. The number of miles passengers traveled on buses from city to city, according to the American Bus Association, was 12 percent higher in April-June 1979 than in the comparable period of 1978.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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Jan. 18, 2008  Mass Transit Boom
Jun. 21, 1985  Mass Transit's Uncertain Future
Oct. 05, 1979  Mass Transit Revival
Oct. 17, 1975  Urban Mass Transit
Dec. 06, 1972  Free Mass Transit
Jul. 08, 1970  Urban Transit Crush
Apr. 24, 1963  Mass Transit vs. Private Cars
Mar. 11, 1959  Urban Transportation
Dec. 10, 1952  Sickness of Urban Transit
May 15, 1942  Local Transportation
Jun. 26, 1931  The Motor Bus in Local Transportation
Dec. 20, 1928  Regulation of Motor Bus Transportation
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