Rising gas prices driving people to mass transit

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(NewsNation) — The surging average price of gas in the U.S. is likely driving Americans toward mass transit and alternative means of transportation.

One of the best ways to see the immediate result of high gas prices is to take a ride on public transit.

As daily life resumes after two years of stagnation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and states have now rescinded universal indoor mask mandates, businesses are trying to persuade workers to return to the office.

This means an end to empty lanes on the nation’s highways as commuters are being pried from their work-from-home environs, not to mention their uber-casual work attire.

Higher prices at the pump can mean money-conscious consumers will drive less. Drivers are facing a one-two punch as higher gas prices come with an increasingly clogged commute.

Some believe gas prices going through the roof could lead to a change in the nation’s commuting habits.

“Gas prices are soaring — but bus, subway, and rail fares aren’t,” traffic consultant Samuel Schwartz, who goes by “Gridlock Sam,” tweeted Thursday.

Schwartz told WCBS newsradio that “traffic typically dips 2% for every 10% gas prices rise. When gas prices increased 30% nationally in 2008, traffic declined across the country by about 3%.”

Gas already costs more than $5 a gallon in at least one state — and $6 a gallon is on the radar.

“There will be some people that will say, ‘This is too much of a hassle, I can’t afford it, and not drive in,'” Schwartz said.

Some state governors are calling for a federal pause on the gas tax amid the nationwide gas hike, but any relief is not likely to come soon.

In South Florida, Tri-Rail trains between West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami are the busiest they have been in two years.

Law student Cheyenne Pearson says driving the hour to class is no longer an option.

“I would love to drive,” she said. “But if I have to choose between filling up my gas tank for almost $90 when that could go to other expenses that I have. Especially as a student being in school, you never know what comes up.”

Steven Abrams, executive director of Tri-Rail, said it’s starting to look like pre-pandemic out there.

“Right when you saw the gas prices go above $4s — and sometimes it takes an artificial number like $4 — we saw a quick increase in ridership,” he said. “Most Tri-Rail tickets right now cost less than a gallon of gas.”

“Riders catch on pretty quickly to see the value … in using transit to get where they want to go as opposed to paying absorbant prices at the pump,” he said.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced in early March that the New York City subway set a new record for single-day ridership since the omicron wave hit.

And in Connecticut, rail service is now about three-quarters of what it was pre-pandemic.

“I will wait if the train is running late or if its raining. I would rather sit on the train and not have to fill up my gas tank,” Pearson said.

Many trains and buses use gas, too. But public transportation prices have not been impacted at this point — because most public transit services have locked in contracts that will alleviate price increases for now.

That’s good news for riders hoping to escape the pain at the pump.

The nationwide mask mandate on mass transit is expected to be eased next month, according to reports. As this may deter some from using the service, it is probable ridership will increase even more once the mandates expire.

And as spring-like weather approaches in many areas of the country, those opting and able to lace up their walking shoes can’t be overlooked as they simply leave their car keys at home.

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