The Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority’s (NAIPTA) cost-efficiency efforts and investment in a new bus route to more effectively serve its community paid off with hefty ridership increases and won it APTA’s 2013 “Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award.”
Over the past three years, NAIPTA’s ridership rose from 950,000 to 1.8 million, Jeff Meilbeck, GM, NAIPTA, says. The spike is a result of the transit system building a high-capacity transit route, Mountain Link, connecting Northern Arizona University to Flagstaff’s downtown business district and Woodlands Village, a popular shopping and residential area for students, at a cost of $6.4 million. NAIPTA launched the route in August 2011 and has seen tremendous ridership growth ever since.
From September 2011 through August 2012, there were 631,377 trips taken on Mountain Link. From September 2012 through August 2013, that number increased to 654,892 trips, Meilbeck says.
Meanwhile, the agency employed cost efficiencies that reduced the cost per passenger from $3.47 to $2.70 per trip. As a result, the agency was able to add service hours without needing to increase indirect and overhead costs.
The increase in riders was one of the biggest factors in NAIPTA’s cost savings, with combined cost control methods and increased ridership creating significant change in cost per passenger, Meilbeck explains.
The cost per passenger drop can also be attributed in part to a newer fleet that decreased maintenance costs. Additionally, 95% of NAIPTA’s fleet is comprised of hybrid-electric buses, supplied by Gillig.
NAIPTA also saved money by reducing employee hours, eliminating overtime and moving some maintenance functions in-house.
Meilbeck says community support has been integral to enhancing the transit system. In 2008, NAIPTA went to voters with five transit initiatives and each one passed at supermajority levels.
A survey conducted by R&R Partners in February 2013 is more evidence of that support. It gauged the sentiments toward public transit in communities across the state. Statewide, the positive score was 42%, but in Flagstaff that score was 88%, says Meilbeck.