A new study says the use of public transportation is at its highest level in the country since 1956 and the head of Iowa’s largest city bus system says ridership is rising at a healthy pace at all levels. Elizabeth Presutti, general manager of the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority, or DART, says the capitol city saw ridership rise 6-percent since the new fiscal year started last July.

“A lot of it has to do with people looking for alternative commute choices, young professionals particularly in Des Moines, are very excited about public transit,” Presutti says. “We do have a growing senior population which is also looking for alternative transportation options.”

Presutti and other leaders of the public transit industry from across the U.S. are in Washington D.C. this week, lobbying members of Congress.  “We’re hoping to advocate for the increase in funding for public transportation,” Presutti says. “The infrastructure needs are huge, not only in Des Moines and Iowa but across the nation.” Iowa’s buses are seeing a lot of use. A report says 56-percent of Iowa’s public transit buses exceed federal standards for useful life — either in age or mileage. Of the roughly 1,600 city buses running on Iowa’s streets, more than 900 of them are considered past their recommended prime. A new city bus may cost $400,000.

In recent years, efforts have been made to revive passenger rail service across Iowa and on to Chicago. “It would be great if it did,” Presutti says. “The state legislature has taken it up for the last several years, passenger rail, and there is one last push to hopefully get some traction this year.”

Spikes in gasoline prices in 2008 and ’09 brought a significant increase in DART ridership, she says. As gas prices rocketed above $4-a-gallon in Iowa, and over $5 elsewhere in the U.S., the use of public transportation bounded to its highest levels since 1957.