During the past year, American gasoline prices dropped and more people went back to work. But they also did something else: jump on public transportation.
More people rode public transit in the United States last year than at any time since 1956, according to a new report from the American Public Transportation Association.
Some 10.65 billion passenger trips were taken on transit systems during the year, which is up 1.1 percent from 2012. That surpassed the most recent peak of 10.59 billion in 2008. It’s the eighth year in a row that Americans took more than 10 billion transit trips.
Moreover, public transit growth over the past two decades has risen 37.5 percent, outpacing population growth, which was up 20 percent from 1995 to 2013.
There’s a ton of great data in the report, and we’ll be breaking it out for you over the next few days. Meanwhile, did you use public transit in 2013? Did you use it for the first time? Let us know your transit stories.
Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotton) demonstrating one of his automobile prototypes, from Orson Welles’s film The Magnificent Ambersons (RKO Pictures, 1942)
Here’s the first installment of Curbing Cars @ The Movies, in which our Research Director Rick Meier explores four cinematic visions of the future of cars and driving. In Part 1, we look back to turn of the 20th century, and the invention of the automobile. We see how the horseless carriage transformed the idyllic, pre-industrial city of Indianapolis, in Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).
By Rick Meier
In 1942, immediately following his spectacular debut in Citizen Kane, Orson Welles delivered his second feature release to RKO Pictures: an elegant adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novelThe Magnificent Ambersons (originally published in 1918).
It is the story of the once grand and prosperous Ambersons: rich and influential property owners in a small but thriving “Midland town” (based on Tarkington’s native Indianapolis, during the opening years of the 20th century).
Welles opens his film with a series of vignettes portraying the way it used to be in sleepy, pre-industrial Indianapolis. In the first vignette we learn that, “back in those days” the only public convenience was the streetcar, and one on which the rules of chivalry were not yet dead.
The film follows the great Amberson family and its ever-watchful neighbors as succeeding generations of Amberson heirs fail to maintain the great wealth and position won by their patriarch, Major Amberson. Faithful to Tarkington’s novel, Welles’s adaptation is set against the backdrop of America’s second industrial revolution (also known as the technological revolution). Behind each personal tragedy of the Ambersons we perceive the changing world of their bustling community as their quaint Midland town progressively spreads and darkens into a modern city.
Ultimately, the greatest threat to the eminence of the Ambersons comes from the newly invented automobile. The family’s prospects begin to dwindle as the Amberson-owned houses on National Avenue (a district based on the real-life neighborhood of Woodruff Place, in Indianapolis) start to depreciate in favour of newer upscale suburban neighborhoods, now more accessible by car, and located further and further away from the increasingly smoky and bustling industry of the downtown core.
In a crucial scene, George—the current Amberson heir—disparagingly characterizes the automobile as a useless nuisance, giving rise to an insightful speech from the automobile manufacturer and family friend, Eugene Morgan (played by Joseph Cotton), about the ways automobiles could potentially impact human life.
The subtext that drives the Magnificent Ambersons is the story of how the rise of driving gave birth to the suburb. Here at Curbing Cars we look at the still-unfolding story of how the now increasing burdens of car ownership is coinciding with an historic period of re-urbanization.
Tune in next week for the second installment in this four-part series on cars in cinema, featuring Minority Report (2002)
If you’ve been to Las Vegas, it’s likely that you’re not thinking about transportation. You’re looking at neon signs, hearing the jangle of slot machines, or watching an elaborate show.
Yet, The Atlantic Citiesreports that Vegas might wind up being a major laboratory for the future of car ownership. Specifically, the idea comes from Project 100, which has been launched by Tony Hsieh, the chief executive of Zappos, the online shoe retailer that is based downtown.
Project 100′s name derives from the quantity of vehicles it plans to offer, according to Cities: “100 Tesla S sedans equipped with professional drivers (a la Uber), 100 short-range electric vehicles you drive yourself (e.g. Zipcar or Car2go), 100 bicycles for sharing, and shuttles with 100 stops across the area. At launch, however, the service will be much smaller. No drivers, no shuttles — only a trolley car on an infinite loop and a handful of Teslas rentable by the minute or hour.”
While apparently a first for America, something like it has been tried in Germany. Continue reading →
Car makers insist that the polar vortices of early 2014 are the main reason domestic sales are down from 2013 levels
By Frederick Meier
2013 was a recovery year for the automotive industry in North America. Improvements in housing markets and pent-up consumer demand had Americans buying more cars than they had since the beginning of the recession. But it was a trend that began to slow down in the fall, and really decelerated in December, as fierce winter weather pushed potential buyers indoors, and off of showroom floors.
This past January, Americans bought slightly more than 1 million vehicles. That was about 32,000 fewer than in January 2013, for the first year-over-year monthly sales drop since August of 2010, according to Ward’s Automotive. Ford and GM both failed to hit their sales targets in January. Both blamed the weather; and both expressed confidence that, once the snow cleared, we would be seeing a car-hungry market making up for lost time.
But the frigid weather affecting most of the country continued long into February.
And observers of the auto market continued to blame the weather, even while executives from several of the ailing auto dealer networks quietly retired amid rumors that the shake ups were actually in response to dwindling sales.
Now, with February sales figures coming this week, the industry will get a snapshot of whether slower sales can be blamed on the weather — or whether they can be blamed on us.
Some analysts are expressing optimism over the February performance.
J.D. Power and Associates contends that sales picked up in the last week of the month, while Cars.com predicted that new-vehicle sales would rise 1.1 percent year-over-year to 1.2 million units, and an estimated 15.4 million seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR).
If this turns out to be true, these numbers would reflect the highest sales for the month since February 2008.
But, analysts overshot the mark in January, somehow missing the fact that consumers were more concerned about getting out of their driveways than putting new cars on them.
Stay tuned for more this week about U.S. auto sales, and how they reflect changing attitudes among American drivers.
By Micheline Maynard
I’ve been getting to know the streets of Phoenix, figuring out where it’s safe to ride and the streets to avoid. It got me thinking that since I’ve never had a class in how to ride in a city, I ought to look for some help online.
Here’s a video from GristTV that’s informative and entertaining. It’s a great one to watch if you haven’t been on a bike in a while, or you aren’t used to urban cycling. (Bike sharing participants, that could mean you.)
Let us know if you have some urban riding tips to go with these.
Although New York’s Citi Bikes grabbed most of the bike share spotlight in 2013, Chicago’s Divvy bike share system racked up some pretty significant numbers during its first year.
The city released a flood of data earlier in February, and cyclists in Chicago are pouring over it to see what kind of patterns are emerging. Chicago Streetsblog is doing a great job dissecting the statistics.
One of them is pretty significant. Women hold 31 percent of annual Divvy memberships, but only took 21 percent of trips last year. Nationally, women make up about 43 percent of bike share users. What’s keeping Chicago women from getting on Divvy bikes?
Meanwhile, the numbers show that annual members make up 47 percent of Divvy trips, with non-members taking the majority of trips. Last year, During the 187 days of service in 2013, users made 759,788 trips.
Michigan is seemingly divided into two unequal sections, and that doesn’t just mean the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. When it comes to passenger rail service, the bottom half of the Lower Peninsula is serviced by three major corridors, while the rest of the state has none.
But plans are in the works for passenger rail service to reach one northern tourist destination – Traverse City.
While navigating the southern part of the state is fairly simple with the available trains, buses and taxis, the northern half is virtually inaccessible without a personal vehicle or plane. There are few alternatives besides a once-daily bus which departs from Kalamazoo heading north and includes several stops (namely Traverse City) before ending in Sault Ste. Marie, located on the Canadian border.
The lack of passenger rail to the northern half of Michigan will soon change, as the state looks to expand its light rail service.
“We could possibly have a passenger rail to Traverse City under way in the next five to six years,” said Nick Schirripa, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation. “It may happen sooner.” Continue reading →
Central Michigan University is redesigning its campus, as millennials rethink their use of cars.
By Micheline Maynard
US PIRG, the advocacy group that has been studying the decline in driving, sent us a copy of their latest study. It looks at the role that universities are playing in creating more-walkable communities, and reducing their dependence on automobiles.
“Americans aged 16 to 34 years of age reduced their annual driving miles by 23 percent per person between 2001 and 2009, according to research based on the most recent data from the Federal Highway Administration that is included in the study.”
Granted, the numbers are a little old (2009 was five years ago, believe it or not) but that’s a pretty stunning figure. It’s the millennial generation that car companies are expecting to fill in behind the baby boomers in car purchases. And if millennials are driving less, it’s less likely that they’ll be interested in car ownership, or at least at the rate that their parents owned cars.
The report itself is worth a read. It looks at how universities are providing a wider range of transportation choices. These include buses, biking, various types of vehicle-sharing such as Zipcar, and apps that make it easier to navigate the options.
One of the benefits is that universities don’t have to invest in increasingly expensive parking facilities. In fact, a number of universities are finding ways to keep students from bringing cars to campus at all. Continue reading →
More than any other mode of transportation, our Curbing Cars readers get around by walking.
By Micheline Maynard
Back on New Year’s Day (a mere month and three days ago), we asked our Curbing Cars audience to tell us how you planned to get around in 2014. We got a terrific response and now we’re sharing the results with you.
We’re ambulatory. Most of us still use cars, but not as much as we use other types of transportation in the mix of the ways we get places. The number one way Curbing Cars readers get around is on two feet. Almost 80 percent of respondents say they get around most frequently by walking. That was followed by public transportation, used by 69.7 percent; cars, used by 58.1 percent and other modes of transportation, which included running, Zipcars or car sharing programs, and taxis.
Several people told us that they use of a mix of transportation in a single day. “I walk to work every day, bus in bad weather, bike for some errands in spring/summer/fall. use my car mainly for weekend shopping and for getting out of town,” replied one survey participant.
In fact, I’m doing more walking this winter in Phoenix, where I’m a Reynolds Visiting Professor of Business Journalism at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State. I walk to school every day from my home downtown, and I’ve walked to the farmer’s market, the movies, to drinks and dinner, and to the Phoenix Opera in the month since I’ve been here. Even though I walked frequently in Ann Arbor, I am doing even more daily walking here. (And of course, the weather is much better…)
We’re pleased with our choices. People seem to be pretty satisfied with the mix of the ways they get places. About 60 percent of you said you were happy with your transportation mix. About 24 percent said they’d like to change it, and the rest said they would like to change it, but couldn’t for various reasons. Continue reading →