February 2013

Community Transit aims for 25% ridership boost

by Brittany-Marie Swanson, Associate Editor

Before the recession hit in 2009, Everett, Wash.-based Community Transit was well on its way to reaching its goal of 12 million annual boardings. Now, after being forced to cut 37% of its service over the past three years, the agency is ready to bounce back — by being more productive with its existing service.

“We can’t add service because we don’t have the money to do it,” said Martin Munguia, public information officer for Community Transit. “But at the same time, we know that there’s a lot of demand, so we’ve made a goal for ourselves to increase our ridership about 25% over the next five years.”

The agency is looking to scrap underutilized service and focus its efforts on providing more effective routes. With this approach, it hopes to increase the 9.2 million riders it saw in 2012 to 12 million by 2017.

“We want to find a way to shift some of our service around — maybe not run as many of the unproductive trips and add those trips to the highly productive routes, where we’re going to see a lot more ridership,” Munguia explained.

In 2011, the agency replaced some of its 60-foot articulated buses used for commuter service to Seattle with double-decker buses, called “Double Talls,” which added 30% passenger capacity without increasing operating costs. Despite this, one of the problems Community Transit has seen, according to Munguia, is excessive numbers of standees on these popular routes.

“We have some double-decker buses, and they have 77 seats. We see many trips with over 100 passengers on those buses,” he said.

To reduce the number of passengers without seating, the agency will now move buses from quiet routes to busier ones. Community Transit will also be able to add 30 trips a day to the Seattle commuter service starting next month, thanks to a grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

Moreover, to cultivate ridership during off hours, the agency is looking to use promotional advertising and social media campaigns to urge riders to use public transit during lunch time or to get to recreational activities.

“Through our peak times — the morning and afternoon rush hours — that’s when we have about 75% of all of our riders onboard. So that means, in the evening and in the middle of the day, the buses are less full,” Munguia said. “We are trying to get people excited about using the bus on those off periods.”

Munguia also pointed out that the best part of Community Transit’s new plan is that it focuses on data, rather than trial and error.

“Back [before the recession], a lot of transit agencies put bus service out in communities to see if people would come,” he explained. “And now, we’re taking much more of a data-driven, productivity-conscious approach.
“Any new service we’re going to add, we’re really going to analyze the statistics,” he added. “We’re only going to put service where we know people are going to ride it.”   


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