- Associated Press - Monday, March 10, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Passenger trips on the Boston-area public transit system dipped slightly in 2013 compared to the previous year, contrasting with an increase nationally in the number of people boarding buses, trains and subways, according to new data released on Monday.

The report from the American Public Transit Association showed total ridership across all modes of travel on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was down 1.5 percent last year. In all, there were 394 million passenger trips on the system, compared to just under 400 million in the previous year.

The U.S. as a whole saw an increase of about 1 percent in public transportation ridership, according to the APTA, and the 10.7 billion trips in 2013 was the highest total since 1956, as transit systems fully recovered from a drop-off caused by the Great Recession.

Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the MBTA, said the drop in ridership was likely tied to the average 23 percent fare hike that went into effect across the system in June 2012.

Analysts had forecast a much steeper 5.5 percent decline in ridership when the fare hike went into effect, Pesaturo noted.

The 2012 price increase, the first on the system in five years, was approved to help close a $160 million transit system deficit. The Legislature last year approved a transportation financing law that aims to eliminate chronic deficits on the MBTA, but also allows for smaller, periodic fare hikes in future years.

Richard Davey, the state’s transportation secretary, said Monday that periodic dips in ridership are expected but the overall trend has been positive.

“The T has been growing consistent ridership for the past decade. We hit the 400 million mark about a year and a half ago, highest since 1996,” Davey said. “So I think people are using the T, a dip here and there, is to be expected, but at the end of the day, I think it is the travel choice for people in and around the city.”

On average, 1.3 million riders use the system each weekday.

“Driving in is a mess and the parking is way too much that taking the train becomes the only realistic option,” said Ken Monahan, 60, as he waited for a train home to Hingham on Monday.

But some commuters acknowledged that fare increases are troublesome.

“There comes a breaking point where driving in costs less than public transportation,” he said. “If they raise the prices even more it will reach that point,” said Jeff Holyoke, 49, a Berkley resident who takes the commuter rail and subway to his job in Cambridge.

Passenger trips on MBTA buses fell 1.2 percent last year and commuter rail ridership was down 4.1 percent, according to the report.

One area that saw a slight increase in ridership was heavy rail, which includes the T’s Red, Orange and Blue Lines.

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