In the wake of economic restructuring and decentralization of cities America has come to rely on automobiles, contributing to high levels of traffic congestion, carbon emissions, poor quality places, and a declining public infrastructure. Policymakers and planners recognize that mass transit, an alternative mode of travel, can alleviate America’s strained transportation system. However, public transportation is an infrequently used service for commuters’ work and nonwork related trips. The purpose of this study is to examine the significance and magnitude of large scale forces on travel behavior gauging the influence of demographics, urban area characteristics, and certain dollar values on mass transit travel particularly bus, light/heavy rail systems. In regressing per capita transit trips and per capita miles from the National Transit Database on U.S. Census data across urban areas and over time (2000-2007), significant variables include higher share of young and old age populations, larger household size, car ownership, higher commute times, denser central places, higher government funding, and higher gas prices. These findings illustrate how responsive the use of public transit is to urban area environments and demographic composition. Policy should acknowledge these relationships for environment sustainability, economic competitiveness, and social vibrancy.


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