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Mass transit demand rises, costs soar

Fuel prices and smaller government subsidies are squeezing transit budgets.

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Commuters: A subway car in Boston is jammed during rush hour. Although the Northeast has public-transportation infrastructure, the ability to expand services can be difficult.

Mary Knox Merrill – staff

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In Seattle, transportation officials plan to add to their daily schedule another three round-trip trains to nearby Tacoma.

In Washington, D.C., commuters on the Metro will soon see many trains expand from six cars to eight.

In New York City, the transportation agency is spending millions of dollars to modernize the subway system's antiquated signaling system, so significantly more trains can travel through its underground tunnels at one time.

Across the US, public-transit officials are scrambling to accommodate a record number of people who are leaving their cars at home and hopping the bus or the train to work.

More than 90 percent of public-transit officials report that their ridership is up over the past three years, according to a survey released this week by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). And more than 90 percent credited the sky-high gasoline prices.

At the same time, many transit agencies find themselves squeezed by the higher fuel prices and smaller local government subsidies, which are shrinking because of the economic downturn. Almost 70 percent have had to raise fares, and some have even been forced to curtail services to cope with the high energy prices, even as the demand is increasing.

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