In his comments last year, Dale predicted that continuing pressures on oil prices as well as our need to control greenhouse gases and do more to improve our environment would continue to drive the development of alternate fuel propulsion technology, as well as contributing to the continued growth of transit ridership.
What ended up happening in the last year could well be described as revolutionary; many transit systems across the country experienced record ridership increases and were faced with overcrowded buses, demand for new routes, and the continuing entrenchment of what had only recently been emerging concepts like bus rapid transit and commuter express services.
These increases in ridership have, in many cases, brought entirely new riders to transit representing a broader demographic base and introducing the concept of effective public transit to a whole new generation of riders.
Progressive, forward-thinking transit systems throughout the country moved quickly to seize these new riders, develop routes, schedules and vehicles, all designed to make them permanent converts.
While the initial forces that drove these new riders to public transit were largely economic issues led by unprecedented prices for gasoline and diesel fuel, the opportunity to keep them as long-terms users will continue to rest in the transit system’s ability to provide them with acceptable schedules and equipment suitable for long distance travel at freeway speeds.
The next several years will continue to present the transit community with unparalleled opportunities to seize new riders as the necessity to look for alternative transportation modes created by skyrocketing fuel prices is replaced with a recessionary economic environment that will exert another set of forces that will make public transit a preferred transportation mode over the private car.
These forces, I believe, will reinforce the decision by systems that have already started adding more equipment and routes aimed at commuter service and BRT, and will encourage and stimulate countless more to follow suit.
As this new equipment is specified and purchased, an ever-increasing percentage of them will be alternative fuel vehicles consisting mainly of hybrid electric and compressed natural gas as congestion mitigation through public transit, combined with transit vehicles that operate on clean fuels, continues to be a powerful one-two punch.
Based on these observations, public transit is poised to again achieve record ridership levels by attracting an ever-broadening demographic base of riders.