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When Will Funding and Policy Priorities Catch Up with America’s Changing Commute?

The reports and studies and polls seem to roll in with increasing regularity—there is absolutely no doubt that automobile use in the United States is declining. More and more urban dwellers are demanding more and better public transportation options, ride shares, bikeability, and walkability.

“In 2014, ridership exceeded 10 billion trips over the course of the year on subways, commuter rail, light rail, buses, and other modes of public transit.”

This point was brought home forcefully with the release last month of yet another report on rising public transit use in the U.S. The report, prepared by the American Public Transportation Association, shows record ridership in 2014, exceeding 10 billion trips over the course of the year on subways, commuter rail, light rail, buses, and other modes of public transit.

In fact, between 1995 and 2014, the report notes that U.S. public transit ridership increased 39 percent, while the overall national population increased only 21 percent.

The unanswered question is, when will funding and policy priorities catch up with steadily changing commuting habits of Americans? Until that adjustment happens, more and more Americans will vote with their feet—or at least with their fare cards, their Uber and Lyft apps, and their bike share memberships.

Thanks in large part to technology and innovative new service models, urban transportation is becoming more dependable, sustainable, and efficient. It’s no longer surprising to hear stories of people moving to new cities and neighborhoods that give them the freedom to park their cars and use public transit instead. Young people in particular are increasingly eager to live in cities where driving is optional.

Two recent surveys that make the point:

  • Last April, The Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America released a survey of millennials in 10 U.S. cities that found that a vast majority want better transit options and to be less reliant on a car—in fact, more than half would consider moving to another city if it offered that choice.
  • In March of this year, U.S. PIRG released a survey of students in Ohio and how transportation influences their choice of where to live. U.S. PIRG reports, “An overwhelming majority of students surveyed, 86 percent, said it would be important for them to live in a place where they could get around without driving after graduation.” The report points out that “cities like Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul, which are investing heavily in diverse transportation systems, are also seeing high growth in the number of young people living there.”

Clearly, the secret is out—if U.S. cities want to attract the next generation of talent to help build their economies of the future, providing transportation options that go beyond the car is an important ingredient to success.

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