Transit enthusiast and never-driver Dan Keshet put together some interesting graphs on Cap Metro ridership which he is generously sharing with the AustinPolitics.NET community. (You can explore all the graphs on your own here)
If nothing else, the graphs show that the widely-bemoaned fall in transit ridership in recent years is largely due to a few distinct factors, notably the dramatic decline of the UT Shuttle.
Let’s take a look at the overall systemwide figures, by month. As you can see, the figures for the last few months of this year are about the same as those months in 2017 but they’re performing well below the 2016 and 2015 summer/fall months. So that’s pretty depressing.
So what’s driving the big decline in ridership? This graph makes it pretty clear:
Basic bus service increased ever-so-slightly, largely driven by major growth in Metro Rapid ridership. Rideshare, MetroRail and Paratransit (Metro Access) have held steady. But UT ridership has plummeted. This graph, that focused on every mode except bus, makes that even more apparent:
Why happened to the UT Shuttle? Keshet did an explainer on that a while back. There are a few theories, but the most compelling one to me is the stupendous increase in housing in the West Campus area. As this other Keshet graph shows, it’s rigoddamndiculous.
Then there are special events:
As you can see, “Special events” is really all about ACL, and it can really throw the overall numbers off. I’m a proud member of the silent (but substantial) minority of Austinites who don’t give a crap about live music and I was out of town this past October, so I don’t have any insight into the precipitous decline in ACL-related bus trips. Especially since Uber/Lyft were already well-established in 2015. Maybe we’ve just had a few lame ACLs.
Keshet did a graph where he removed special events and the UT Shuttle to get at what he terms the agency’s “core service.”
But there is at least one potentially troubling question that these graphs can’t answer: Has the boost in ridership since ReMap simply been the result of increased transfers? In other words, are the same people getting counted more than once because they are now boarding more buses to get to the same place? Cap Metro has not provided any data to assuage these concerns.
This other graph, which focuses on weekday ridership, raises another big concern.
Essentially, the improvements we’ve seen this year were largely driven by big increases in weekend ridership, particularly on Sundays. This graph shows what Sunday ridership is like without festivals:
The increase in Sunday ridership is clearly a result of CapMetro boosting frequency on weekends. That’s great. People should have access to reliable transit service on weekends. But the problem is that no matter how popular weekend buses become, they’ll never generate nearly as many riders as weekday buses. That means that each weekend bus is much more heavily subsidized: a much smaller portion of what Cap Metro is spending to run weekend service is being offset by bus fares.
BUT…again, things don’t look so bad when you take out UT Shuttle and special events. In fact, this reflects very positively on Cap ReMap. In June, July, August and September Cap Metro’s core weekday ridership was higher than in the previous three years. The steep decline in October is almost certainly due to the severe storms we had.
In summation, what these graphs suggest is that Cap Metro experienced a steep decline in non-college ridership in 2016 but that it reversed that trend in 2017 (largely due to eliminating the MetroRapid premium fare & bolstering frequency for MetroRapid) and has made further gains since the implementation of Cap ReMap in June 2018.
Granted, Cap Metro’s problems began long the period covered by these charts. Ben Wear explained last year: “The agency’s 30.4 million boardings in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 is 14 percent below the 2008 ridership, and roughly equal to the 1997 ridership total when Austin was much smaller.”
There’s a lot more work to do. But the figures suggest that Cap Metro’s constituency of bus riders is not shrinking and may in fact be expanding. Fingers crossed that things keep moving in the right direction.