HOUSTON (AP) — Long known for big pickup trucks and even bigger traffic jams, Texas' largest city is quietly seeing its public transportation ridership increase, according to a national report released Monday.
Houston's Metro Transit Authority recorded nearly 2.26 million trips on buses, trains and its light-rail system in 2013, up 2.76 percent from the previous year. That's among the largest increases in the nation, according to data released by the American Public Transportation Association.
Metro spokeswoman Margaret O'Brien-Molina said Houston's booming economy has created more jobs locally — which means more residents using public transportation to get to them.
She said a program allowing cyclists to take their bikes on buses has enjoyed strong recent gains and that ridership is also up at suburban park-and-ride centers around the country's fourth most-populous city and in surrounding parts of Harris County.
"People always ask, 'Are Houstonians going to be willing to give up their cars?' Well, a lot of people already have," O'Brien-Molina said.
In all, Americans took nearly 10.7 billion trips on public transportation in 2013 — the highest total since 1956.
Houston's increase was higher than increases recorded between 2012 and last year in Los Angeles and Miami. And it was about on par with increases in San Diego and Denver but lower than Seattle's 8.4 percent increase and the New York City Transit Authority's 3.6 percent rise, according to Monday's report.
Metro, meanwhile, has its own tallies for fiscal year 2013, which ran through Sept. 30 and showed local bus ridership up 4.4 percent from fiscal year 2012, and park-and-ride participation jumping 7.8 percent over the same period.
"It's amazing to think about, that this is Houston," O'Brien-Molina said. "This is not Portland, Oregon. This is not Seattle."