03/12/2012 11:18 am ET Updated May 12, 2012

Public Transit: Americans Take Second-Most Trips Since 1957

WASHINGTON, March 12 (Reuters) - Americans took 10.4 billion trips on public transportation in 2011, the second-highest total since 1957, as gasoline prices rose and the economy improved, an industry group said on Monday.

Only ridership in 2008, when gasoline rose to more than $4 a gallon, beat 2011's total, the American Public Transportation Association said in a statement.

Ridership was up last year 2.3 percent from 2010, with the increase spread across large, medium and small communities.

"Two top reasons for the increased ridership are higher gas prices and in certain areas, a recovering economy with more people returning to work," Michael Melaniphy, the association's president and chief executive, said in the statement.

The fastest pace of growth was in rural communities with populations under 100,000, with an increase of 5.4 percent.

Light rail ridership increased 4.9 percent in 2011, with increases of 37.2 percent for Seattle and 31.2 percent in Dallas.

Ridership for subways and elevated trains was up 3.3 percent and commuter rail ridership rose 2.5 percent. Large bus systems reported an increase of 0.4 percent nationally.

The report comes as the association is holding its legislative conference in Washington to meet with lawmakers and regulators.

Federal funding is set to expire at the end of March and the Senate is scheduled to vote on a two-year, $109 billion authorization bill on Tuesday.

A House transportation bill calling for $260 billion in spending over five years failed to gain support. House Speaker John Boehner said last week he was willing to take up the Senate measure instead.

(Reporting By Ian Simpson; Editing by Paul Thomasch)