Yes, the bus is more crowded

Despite Muni’s major suckage, Bay Area residents are starting to ride it more often, a trend seen in nearly all public transit systems nationwide.

The first quarter of 2012 showed a 5 percent jump in ridership nationally from last year. Americans took around 2.7 billion trips by way of public transit, according to the American Public Transit Association.

Light rail use increased 6.7 percent in the U.S. Some places, including Oakland, showed a record number of ridership on its transit systems.

And for the first time, usage of Los Angeles’ light-rail system exceeded San Francisco’s, with 4.61 million riders from January to March, compared to 4.55 million for Muni’s Metro light rail.

Here’s a breakdown of how transit use in the Bay Area measures up:

  • 383,700 daily BART riders is 9.7 percent more than the first three months of last year. BART is the fifth largest heavy rail — subway and elevated train — system in the country, behind New York, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Boston. Overall, heavy rail reported a 5.5 increase in ridership.
  • Among commuter rail systems, Caltrain ridership — about 42,000 each weekday — shot up nearly 15 percent, while Capitol Corridor usage jumped by 6.3 percent. Commuter rail ridership increased by 3.9 percent nationwide.
  • Light rail ridership increased the most, with a 6.7 percent increase in riders nationwide. Muni inched forward with a 2.3 percent increase, while even the lightly-used San Jose light rail system boosted ridership managed to find 5.5 percent more riders. Sacramento increased ridership by nearly 8.5 percent.
  • Large bus systems across the nation reported a 4.6 percent increase in riders. Oakland’s AC Transit touted a healthy 10.5 percent increase.

APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy said 60 percent of all commutes were to and from work. He said public transit’s affordability during hard times could be the cause:

“High gas prices were part of the reason for this large first quarter ridership increase. More and more people are choosing to save money by taking public transportation when gas prices are high.”

He’s got a point. Shelling out $2 and braving smelly passengers, late buses and being packed like sardines in a hot bus is probably better than the injustice of paying at least $40 for a full tank at the gas pump.