Your first reaction to this post may very well be…”You’re late”. However, I am late in posting the March, 2014 transit ridership report for a good reason; Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) did not publish blog posts during the month of April to highlight their ridership stats for the past month. For those of you who pay close attention to either HART and/or PSTA’s monthly ridership, you’re probably used to seeing them publish a blog post about bus ridership each month. Because the numbers weren’t available via blog post, I had to read the ridership reports and figure out which numbers were which.
Now, while the reasoning behind this absence is not known to me, I do have a feeling that it may have something to do with nearly every mode seeing some sort of ridership decline during March, 2014, compared to March, 2013. I do want to stress, that while there are declines, overall bus ridership remains pretty strong on both HART and PSTA (transit naysayers are more than welcome to post their arguments). And because the numbers weren’t available via a blog post, I had to wait for the publishing of board meeting packets, where detailed ridership information typically shows up. For Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), their figures are listed in their monthly ridership report.
So as depicted by the above graphic, HART, PSTA, and HRT all saw declines in ridership during March, 2014, when compared against March, 2013’s figures. Although this doesn’t necessarily mean that bad things are to come for public transit as a whole, if a negative trend develops for HART and PSTA ridership specifically over the next few months, it could mean the end to record-shattering ridership for both agencies.
Like many things, even a great increase in transit ridership doesn’t last forever. In fact, ridership levels tend to go up and down each month due to a variety of different factors, including (but not limited to) weather and other unforeseen circumstances, service adjustments (schedule adjustments, route additions/changes/eliminations), funding and finances (both personal finances and the finances of the transit agency), and even rider behavior/trends (for example, are new riders using the system?).
One example can be applied to the Looper Trolley in St. Pete. Their ridership decline over last year could be largely attributed to the loss of tourist venues like BayWalk (now known as Sundial) and The Pier.
So here’s a more detailed breakdown of the numbers, all grabbed from ridership reports put out by the transit agencies. Please note that rounding of percentages is done differently here than in my earlier graphic. Percent change figures for HART and PSTA are copied directly from the ridership report sections of their board meeting packets. HRT does not display percent change figures on their ridership report packet, so I’ve done the calculation through this website by plugging in the respective figures.
HRT attributes its continual plummet in ridership to changes made to the GoPass 360 program. As I mentioned in February’s Ridership Report, HRT made such changes to its GoPass360 program due to revenues failing to meet expectations. However, with the changes in place, ridership has suffered due to numerous participating institutions pulling out of the GoPass360 program, which in-turn, has resulted in less customers willing to use transit without the pass discount. While HRT is expecting the GoPass360 situation to improve, they need to use caution from this point onward, as any drastic change to the program in the future could eventually lead to the program’s demise.
Although prospects for HRT look somewhat grim at this point, the year is far from over. We could still see some gains in transit usage across all three systems that I cover in this report. Year-to-Date ridership as of March, 2014 on both the HART and PSTA systems, only saw a small decrease of 0.2% compared March, 2013. The remainder of the year could still show strong transit usage for both HART and PSTA, as well as HRT, all three of which continue to see monthly rides over the 1 million mark. On the other hand, if those figures begin to fall below the 1 million mark, that could present an underlying and larger problem for transit as a whole. Right now, it’s far too early to tell.