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Public transportation : Gas prices boost light rail

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Short Takes, Region Focus, Spring/Summer 2008 PH OT OG RA PH Y: C HA RL OT TE A RE A TR AN SI T SY ST EM 8 R e g i o n F o c u s • S p r i n g / S u m m e r 2 0 0 8 PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION Gas Prices Boost Light Rail Charlotte’s new light rail line, a rarity in sprawling south-eastern cities, is rolling like a juggernaut. In a case of perfect timing, Charlotte’s 9.6 mile Lynx Blue Line opened as gas prices climbed, in November 2007. It has exceeded passenger forecasts by 40 percent so far. Pump prices have prompted a 2.8 percent national decline in vehicle miles traveled so far this year. In fact, an analysis by Cambridge Energy Research Associates suggests that, if petroleum prices stay at or near current levels, gasoline demand in the United States may have peaked. Consumers are driving less and are also choosing more fuel-efficient cars based on gasoline prices that began rising two years ago. Car sales in the United States have declined since mid-2005, and hybrid vehicle sales have increased by more than a third from 2006 to 2007. Another byproduct of higher fuel prices is that more riders are seeking out public transportation. The Greater Richmond Transit Corporation (GRTC) reports that more suburban dwellers are riding the bus. Vanpools have also become more popular. Last April, nearly 3,000 more people, 15 percent more, rode vanpools than in April 2007, according to the GRTC. And in Norfolk, Va., 32 percent more people rode the bus in the first quarter of 2008 than in the same period in 2007. The city broke ground on its light rail project last fall. Charlotte’s rail line has become a model. “Since we have opened, from December [2007] through the end of April, we are averaging daily about 13,000, just during the week,” says Jean Leier, spokesman for the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). The light rail system in Baltimore had almost 17 percent more riders in the first quarter of 2008 than it did in that quarter of 2007. While this spark of pu

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