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Your Bus to Work Just Got a Little More Crowded

Last year, Americans took more than 10 billion trips on mass transit. It was the second highest rate ever. Now, with gas prices even higher this year — plus signs that more Americans are re-entering the workforce — this year may prove to be the best on record for public transportation.

According to a report released by the American Public Transportation Association on Monday, we took 10.4 billion trips on buses, trains, trolleys and ferries last year – the second highest number since 1957 and second only to 2008, when gas hovered around $4 a gallon.

Ridership increased 2.3% over 2010, and it was the sixth year in a row that more than 10 billion trips were taken throughout the U.S. The largest rate of growth was found in rural areas of the country with populations under 100,000. Those regions saw a 5.4% uptick from 2010.

Officials cite three factors that have pushed ridership numbers upwards: high gas prices, more people re-entering the workforce, and technological developments that have made using public transit much easier.

Last year, gas prices averaged $3.51 – the highest annual average in history. So far this year, gas prices are about 30 cents higher than that average and are projected to remain high throughout the spring. Nine states may see gas prices averaging $4 this week, and some are predicting that gas could reach $5 by Memorial Day. Those prices have already had an effect on how often we drive these days and seems to have piqued our interested in more more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The improving economy has also pushed more people to use mass transit. With the healthy jobs figures released last week, even more Americans could be taking public transit over the next several months. APTA officials say that 60% of mass transit trips are work commutes.

Plus, there’s now an endless number of mobile phone apps that help riders navigate through often-confusing subway maps, train tables and bus stops. That technology seems a smaller but significant factor in more people using public transportation.

What’s rather interesting about U.S. mass transit is its bell-curve-like history. Americans began using public transportation en masse around the 1940s. But as the automobile became more affordable, the number of subway and bus riders dipped. Now, as more Americans look to keep their car in the garage to save money on gas, public transportation is back. And that bus ride to work is probably only going to get more cramped this year.

By Josh Sanburn
Time Moneyland