WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans took a record 10.7 billion trips on public transportation last year as an increase in urban living, costlier fuel, more investment and an economic upturn helped drive ridership, an industry group said on Monday. 2013 was the eighth straight year in which more than 10 billion trips were taken on U.S. public buses, subways, commuter rail and streetcars, the American Public Transportation Association(APTA) said in a report. 2013 marked the highest level of ridership since 1956, it said. "It's all about, if you build it, they will come. The investment pays off," APTA President and Chief Executive Michael Melaniphy said in a telephone interview. Melaniphy said the increase in part reflected increased investment in public transit by the federal government, along with that by states and cities which want to attract new businesses and workers. The U.S. trend toward urban living and walkable cities also is behind the upturn in ridership. A surge in ridership that came in 2008 when gasoline and diesel prices spiked has continued even though the cost of fuel has fallen, Melaniphy said. "People are coming and staying," he said. The upturn in the U.S. economy also means more people commuting to work. Since 1995, public transit ridership has risen 37.2 percent. The increase has outpaced a 20.3 percent rise in population and a 22.7 percent upturn in vehicle miles traveled, the report said. Among transport sectors, ridership for heavy rail, or subways and elevated trains, was up 2.8 percent last year. Commuter rail rose 2.1 percent. Light rail, or streetcars and trolleys, experienced a 1.6 percent increase in ridership. Buses overall saw a 0.1 percent fall, though ridership in cities with less than 100,000 population rose almost 4 percent. Cities with the largest increases in ridership included: - Salt Lake City, which saw a 103.3 percent in commuter rail traffic after the opening of a new line in December 2012; - Austin, Texas, with a 37.3 percent rise in commuter rail use; - Miami, with an increase of almost 11 percent in heavy rail use, largely because of increased frequency during peak hours; - and New Orleans, with a 29 percent rise in light rail use. Release of the report coincided with the APTA Legislative Conference in Washington, which is aimed at helping shape federal and industry policy. (Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Chris Francescani and Jonathan Oatis)
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