The American Public Transportation Association is reporting great news from across the country. Urban mass transit systems in 33 cities, including the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North and "the Port Authority," which I guess means the PATH train, are reporting increasing ridership in tandem with rising gasoline prices. This is great news, even if it's for an unfortunate reason. Here's snippet: With the spike in gas prices in recent months, more and more Americans are getting out of their cars and turning to public transportation to commute, get to school, visit friends and family, and go shopping, and transit is taking prominent role in the dialogue about reducing the nation's energy consumption. According to research, if Americans used public transportation the same rate as Europeans, for roughly 10 percent of their daily travel needs, the U.S. would reduce its dependence on imported oil by more than 40 percent, or nearly the amount of oil the U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia each year.Rising gas prices may be bad for the economy overall, but they're great for sensible transportation. An increase in the gas tax would have the same effect as an increase in gas prices, but would sent our hard-earned money to Washington instead of Riyadh. Ditto for a decrease in highway spending, which would also help decrease "conservative" George W. Bush's enormous budget deficit. We haven't taken the intelligent, pre-emptive action to cut automobile use through policy actions. Paradoxically, decreasing automobile use has been curbed by expensive gasoline, caused in part by … overuse of the automobile.

The Times had a preview of the press release in last Sunday's Week in Review section that makes the connection between short-sighted land use practices and transportation woes: [T]he average American household used its cars and trucks for 496 shopping trips in 2001, according to an exhaustive survey of 160,000 Americans conducted by the Transportation Department. Trips were 7.02 miles in length, on average, for a total of 3,482 miles per household per year. That much driving could almost get you from New York to Juneau, Alaska, give or take a few hundred miles.

That's a lot farther than in 1990, when the average household's shopping trips could only get you from New York to Denver. Part of the difference stems from the fact that the length of an average shopping trip was 5.1 miles in 1990. Blame greater suburban sprawl for longer trips these days.Those of us who are lucky enough to live in places served by mass transit are lucky to have an alternative to driving.

- High Gas Prices, Emerging Technologies Spur Transit Ridership Increases [APTA]
- Go Ahead and Drive Less, if You Can [NYT]