Transportation and the New Generation, a study by the Frontier GroupEnlarge Photo
Wise men say that the wheels on the bus go round and round. The men and women at the American Public Transportation Association agree, adding that the wheels turned a lot more frequently in 2013 thanks to soaring ridership on mass transit systems.
The question is: is this a brief trend, or does it spell long-term trouble for the auto industry?
2013: A YEAR OF RECORD-BREAKING RIDERSHIP
This week, APTA published statistics on mass transit usage in the U.S. during the 2013 calendar year (PDF). The most important takeaway is this: "In 2013 Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation, which is the highest annual public transit ridership number in 57 years".
Of course, it's important to keep in mind that APTA is an advocacy organization, dedicated to lobbying cities, states, agencies, and the federal government for mass-transit funding. As such, we should be wary of taking all of its statements at face value. However, the figures that APTA presents in its study seem fairly spin-free, and if accurate, they paint a clear picture of the growing popularity of public transportation. Among the study's major findings:
WHY THE INCREASE?
It's tempting to link public transportation usage to the economy: during lean years, the number of people riding the bus should go up, and during prosperous years, it should go down, as commuters return to their cars. However, 2013 was a period of economic growth, so the inverse relationship between national economy and mass transit activity seems specious, at best.
So, what other reasons might there be for the uptick in public transportation?
For auto industry types, none of this is encouraging news. (Though they probably knew something was up when they heard that global car sales will go into permanent decline within the next ten years.)
With tomorrow's vehicles slated to look like self-driving iPads, how will Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, and others keep up? Can they turn profits with car-sharing, ride-sharing, and other schemes? Can they create alternative vehicles that appeal to tomorrow's urban-dwellers? If you've got some salient thoughts about the industry's future, share them in the comments below.