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Gas is really cheap – but people are still flocking to public transportation

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Many people turned to public transportation when gas prices spiked. That's what the trend has been for a long time.

Now that a gallon of gas is at its lowest price in the last five years ... well, people are still riding public transportation at a frequent rate, bucking that previous trend.

The steady drop in gas prices over the last few months hasn't affected public transportation ridership in many cities, the New York Times reports. Previously, spikes in ridership were linked to an increase in gas prices – people would get back in their cars when gas prices dropped.

And oh, gas prices have dropped.

The average price for a gallon of gas is at its lowest mark since May 2009 and is down more than $1.25 a gallon since a recent spike in May 2014, Reuters notes. The average price for gas in Minnesota was $2.271 Monday, slightly less than the $2.376 national average, according to GasBuddy.com.

Despite the cheap gas, many cities – including Minneapolis – are still seeing increased ridership on public transportation, according to a recent report by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

“People are saying, ‘I came because of fuel prices; I’m staying because of the experience,’” Michael Melaniphy, president of the APTA, told the New York Times.

The APTA found more than 2.7 billion trips were taken on public transportation nationwide in the third quarter of 2014 – a 1.8 percent increase over the same quarter last year, despite cheaper gas prices.

Melaniphy said in a news release people "have discovered that there are benefits to taking public transit besides saving money."

In Minnesota, ridership is way up

Ridership on Metro Transit's Green Line, which connects downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul, has nearly surpassed the projections for the year 2030, the Pioneer Press said. From its opening in June to the end of November, 5.6 million passengers rode the line, averaging more than 1 million riders per month, according to Metro Transit.

And it's not just the Green Line. Ridership on all of Metro Transit buses and trains was up 7 percent through the third quarter, Metro Transit notes. Total year-end ridership is expected to reach 84 million – the highest since 1981.

Why is this time different?

APTA notes several reasons why ridership hasn't fallen with gas prices. Improved economy has helped boost ridership numbers in many cities, including Minneapolis. Nearly 60 percent of public transit trips are for work commutes, and cities with increased economy and low unemployment rates (Minnesota is at its lowest level since 2001) have seen a consistent increase in ridership.

The organization also notes improvements in technology, including real-time transit apps and easily accessible stop information, has made public transit more convenient and easier to use.

The federal government's investment in public transportation – some of the $957 million Green Line was funded by the federal government – has increased access for many people, by adding new rail and bus routes and increasing frequency on lines, APTA says.

The New York Times says the shift to public transportation is also a sign that many communities are leaving behind the suburban lifestyle of the previous generation for a more urban environment.

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