Adapting to higher gasoline prices, more people in the United States are taking the train or the bus. Public transportation ridership counts in the first quarter were up 5 percent from the year before and set new records in many major cities. Only a small part of that increase is because more people are working. Much of it is a simple matter of people wanting to save money. And it helps that public transportation systems are improving. Trains especially have become more reliable, and suburban rail systems have added more parking capacity so that more people can park their cars and proceed by train.
The popularity of the iPad accounts for some of the increase in ridership. If you can get a seat on the bus, you can watch movies or write messages during the commute, and for some people, that is reason enough to take the bus instead of driving the car.
The fuel savings are large enough to have an impact on gasoline prices and to cut into the trade deficit. Mass transit by itself won’t be enough to keep gasoline prices low, but it is an essential part of the solution to the massive energy-cost drag on the economy.