The March ridership figures for Cap Metro are in. Overall ridership is up 1% over March 2018. However, Cap Metro notes, March ’18 had one more weekday than March ’19. Had they had the same number of weekdays, ridership would have been up 3%, the agency estimates.
Ten months after the implementation of Cap ReMap, which redrew the bus network to prioritize straighter routes and more than doubled the number of frequent routes (every 15 mins during peak hours), ridership is up 3.4%.
This apparent good news, however, is tempered by the fact that weekday ridership is relatively stagnant. The ridership gains from Cap Remap are due to increases in weekend rides, particularly Sunday rides.
As I’ve explained before, increased weekend ridership is great. Clearly, it is due to Cap Metro’s decision to run buses as frequently on weekends as weekdays. That means that on the 14 frequent routes, buses now come every 15 minutes during peak hours (6 am-8 pm), while on other regular routes they come every 30 minutes. Before Cap ReMap, weekend service was significantly worse.
The problem is, weekend ridership will never be as high as weekday ridership. We’re spending the same amount of money to run buses on Saturdays and Sundays as we are any other day, but we’re recouping far less in fare revenue. Sunday ridership is up 18.4% over last year and yet the average bus on Sunday is carrying fewer than half as many passengers as a weekday bus.
The money we’re investing to boost weekend ridership wouldn’t be as much of a concern if there was a corresponding increase in weekday ridership to make up for the big weekend subsidy.
The good news is that the slide has stopped. Over the previous few years, ridership had been falling and Cap ReMap appears to have halted the hemorrhaging. It’s going to be a long road before Cap Metro can fully recover and eventually surpass the performance it boasted back in the late 2000’s, when Austin was much smaller. And it’s going to take much more than enhanced service. It’s going to take tough decisions from the city to grow in a way that favors transit (density, less parking).
Correction: Earlier I wrote that weekend ridership was declining. I was referring specifically to fixed routes, but I have since clarified to say that systemwide weekday ridership is “relatively stagnant.”