The APTA report compared numbers from January through September, and found a collective 3.8 percent drop in bus, light-rail and commuter rail ridership when compared to 2008.
APTA President William Millar attributed the drop to the high number of individuals who are currently out of work.
“Nearly 60 percent of riders take public transportation to commute to and from work, so it is to be expected that public transit ridership would be lower when unemployment is high.”
The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics reported a steady increase in the national unemployment rate throughout the first nine months of 2009, reaching 9.8 percent in September – a 58 percent rise from the previous year.
Public transit systems across the country have also seen a significant decrease in funding from state and local governments looking to trim their budgets. APTA reports that more than 80 percent of public transit authorities have experienced stagnant or decreased funding from state, local and regional revenues.
The financial impact has lead many transit agencies to pass the burden along to the commuter, with APTA reporting 89 percent of systems raising fares or cutting back on service – and 47 percent doing both.
Locally, MARTA riders have seen the effects first-hand. The Authority raised fares from $1.75 to $2.00 in October, while simultaneously eliminating several bus routes. A proposal to shut down the trains at midnight was initially floated, but later voted down.
But, despite these dwindling trends, Millar believes that ridership numbers will once again rebound, just as soon as the people who take public transit have somewhere to go.
“Just like the unemployment rate, public transit use is a lagging economic indicator,” said Millar. “We would expect that when employment rebounds, so will transit ridership.”