I noted on Twitter this morning that the 6:30AM train to Penn Station was less crowded than it used to be. As it turns out, this may not be the economic indicator I thought it was.
The New York Times reported over the weekend that:
More people rode the nation’s public buses, subways and commuter trains last year than in any year since 1956, when the federal government created the Interstate highway system…Americans took nearly 10.7 billion rides on public transportation in 2008, a 4 percent increase over the previous year, according to the report, by the American Public Transportation Association, a nonprofit organization that represents transit systems….Ridership surged after gasoline prices hit $4 a gallon last summer and held steady in the fall after gas prices fell, the report found….
“You would normally have expected with lower gas prices, a declining economy and rapidly growing unemployment that transit ridership would have been down,” said William W. Millar, the transportation association’s president. “It appears that many of those people, once they tried public transit, found that it suited their needs.”
While ridership may be up, what I observed may not be an indicator of increased unemployment but of the cutback in hours that seems to impacting many workers. When working fewer hours, people may be able to start their day a bit later.
I keep looking for tangible evidence of the social changes the recession might bring (other than the obvious). There has been some discussion about how recessions can lead people to simplify and re-focus on their communities but I’m not sure if that can be quantified yet.