Hot Docs: The Boom in Public Transit, Religion Losing Ground?

Today's selection of timely reports.

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Mass Transit Usage Up: Americans recorded the highest use of mass transit in 52 years last year, setting a modern ridership record. A report by the American Public Transportation Association says that Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation in 2008, a period when the country saw rapidly increasing gas prices and a declining economy. The rise in ridership represents a 4 percent increase over 2007, while vehicle miles traveled declined by 3.6 percent, according to Department of Transportation figures. APTA President William Millar said ridership increased "even as gas prices fell for the second half of the year and hundreds of thousands of people lost jobs." The ridership increase continues a trend that shows public transportation usage is up 38 percent since 1995.

Religion on the Decline in America: The number of people in the United States identifying themselves as nonreligious has grown dramatically since 1990 and now constitutes 15 percent of the population. The American Religious Identification Survey 2008, conducted by Trinity College's Program on Public Values, surveyed more than 54,000 people in either English or Spanish between February and November of last year. In 1990, 8.2 percent claimed they practiced no religion; in 2001, that figure was 14.2 percent; and in 2008, it was 15 percent. Vermont has the highest group of "Nones," with 34 percent. The share of Christians in America has continued to decline. In 1990, it was at 86.2 percent; in 2001, it was 76.7 percent; now, it's at 76 percent. Some 90 percent of the decline comes from mainline Christian denominations, including Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians/Anglicans, and the United Church of Christ.

Virtual and Emergency Food Reserves Needed: To prevent a repeat of the 2007-2008 international food price crisis, the G-8, along with a handful of other countries, should band together to form two food reserves, one real and one virtual. This recommendation from the International Food Policy Research Institute comes in a new policy brief, "Implementing Physical and Virtual Food Reserves to Protect the Poor and Prevent Market Failure." The independent emergency reserve should contain about 300,000 to 500,000 metric tons of grain, be decentralized, and be located near or in developing countries, the group says. The reserve would be managed by the World Food Program and be used only for emergency response and humanitarian assistance. The virtual reserve would be made up of a number of countries that would make a pledge to supply funds for intervention in the futures market. Such funds would be promissory in nature. There would also be a unit devoted to monitoring global prices and another to determine if intervention is needed.