Dry but telling, the latest data is out from the United States Highway Statistics and National Transit Database for 2005. As always, the Urban Transport Fact Book has quickly organized some useful snapshots from it.
How much of travel is by car and how much by transit? Overall urban transit share of travel in 2005 was 1.51%, down from 1.70% in 2000, a precipitous fall from 100% in 1900.
What about use of transit in the 50 largest urban areas in the US? New York area is first withn 9.6%, Bay Area second with 5%, and it drops off sharply from there. Only 9 urban areas have 2% or more of travel by transit. Story is even starker when you look at the 100 largest urban areas.
See how much of transit in the US is just in New York. 41% of all the transit travel in the US is in New York. The 5 urban areas over 5,000,000 population account for more than 60% of ridership.
Bottom line: In spite of decades of spending far more on transit per user than on roads, transit carries less of the traveling public every year. New York is the only urban area where transit carries enough people to make it a really significant part of the system. The painful thing is, this is caused by bad transit policy. We spend absurd proportions of our transportation dollars on transit systems designed not to served transit users, but to try to get people out of their cars--especially light rail projects. By every meaningful empirical measure, this has not worked. Transit's niche in urban travel and transit riders would be far better served by high quality bus transit services that include bus lanes that keep express busses out of traffic. To whit, virtual exclusive busways using a HOT lanes network, integrated with quality network buses services. The billions spent on light rail projects could deliver very nice, attractive, efficient, high quality bus transit and make everyone better off.