Smart growthers and other rail nuts love to talk about how rising fuel prices are leading people to ride mass transit. The truth is that, in March, 2008, driving experienced one of the greatest declines in history (from March of the previous year), but mass transit ridership also declined. So people are hardly taking transit as a substitute for driving.
Instead, says Nielsen, people are spending less on discretionary items, combining trips, and buying in-store brands instead of name-brand items. Riding transit? Not so much.
Here are some of the responses people have given to Nielsen surveys in June 2006, 2007, and 2008 (for more details, download thePDF of Nielsen’s press release):
How are you responding to higher fuel prices?
Survey 6/06 6/07 6/08 Trip chaining 68 68 78 Eat out less 39 38 52 Shop more at supercenters 26 23 28 Buy less expensive brands 22 19 35 Use transit more 4 3 4 Carpool more - 5 7
First of all, hardly anyone is saying they are riding transit more. Second, the same number who said they were riding transit more in 2006 are saying it today. By comparison, 13-14 percent more people are saying the are eating out less, 10 percent more are saying they are trip chaining, and 13-16 percent more say they are buying less expensive brands.
A couple of weeks ago the House of Representatives approved the so-called Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act, which doesn’t save energy but subsidizes transit agencies that are, in many cases, wasting energy. Nielsen’s surveys suggest the government could save more energy by subsidizing people who eat at home or shop at one-stop-shopping centers instead of multiple stores.