More Americans used public transit last year than in any year since 1956, according to a new report by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
Americans took 10.7 billion trips on subways, streetcars, buses and other forms of public transportation in 2013, according to the report, making last year the eighth year in a row with more than 10 billion trips taken on public transportation. The report found that public transit ridership in the U.S. has jumped 37.2 percent since 1995, an increase that’s outpaced population growth and vehicle miles traveled.
The last time public transit ridership was at an all-time high was 2008, when gas prices spiked in the U.S., reaching $4 and $5 per gallon in some places. In 2013, however, gas prices as a whole were lower, a fact the group says means that public transit isn’t soley reliant on transportation costs.
“Now gas is averaging well under $4 a gallon, the economy is coming back and people are riding transit in record numbers,” Michael Melaniphy, president of APTA told the New York Times. “We’re seeing a fundamental shift in how people are moving about their communities.”
The group said in a release that part of the reason for the spike in public transit usage was the economic recovery of some cities — with more people employed, there are more people relying on public transit to get to work every day. And, Melaniphy said, the inverse is true as well: cities that invest in public transit often see shrinking unemployment rates, because people have access to job opportunities that may have been off-limits before.
Americans aren’t just taking public transit more often, however. They’re also driving less, according to a 2013 report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. The report found that the amount of miles driven per person has dropped in 46 states since 2007, with Washington, D.C. residents driving the least and young people across the country driving less than older generations.
If this trend of fewer miles driven and more miles spent on a bus or subway continues, it won’t just be good for the environment — it’ll also be good for Americans’ health. Multiple studies have linked air pollution exposure to heart damage and birth defects, and exposure to traffic pollution in particular could be linked to kidney damage.