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Reuters

Public Transit 2008 Ridership Highest in 52 Years

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A morning commuter walks out of the subway in New York's Times Square March 2, 2009. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

WASHINGTON - Facing volatile energy prices and a major economic downturn, Americans turned to public transportation more in 2008 than they have in over 50 years, a transit group said on Monday.

Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transit last year, up 4 percent from 2007, the American Public Transportation Association said. This is the highest level of ridership in 52 years.

"Where many of the other indicators in our economy are down, public transit is up," APTA Vice President Rosemary Sheridan told Reuters.

U.S. gasoline prices set records in 2008, rising above $4 a gallon in July. Gasoline costs began to cool off in the fall, however, as the effects of a global economic downturn began to curb oil demand.

Although gasoline prices are down, Sheridan said that many people are sticking with public transportation to save money.

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Public transit trips were up 4.12 percent in December to 842 million. Ridership on public transportation rose 1.68 percent to 2.7 billion trips in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared to the same period a year earlier.

This is the fifth consecutive year the association has reported record ridership. Sheridan said the economic slowdown might dent public transportation use in 2009, though, as increased unemployment may lead to fewer commuters.

As Americans rode public transit more last year, they drove less. The U.S. Transportation Department reported last month that highway travel fell 3.6 percent, or almost 108 billion miles, in 2008 from 2007.

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; editing by Jim Marshall)

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