Weekday ridership still lagging

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%.

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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.

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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.”

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6 thoughts on “Weekday ridership still lagging

  1. “This apparent good news, however, is tempered by the fact that weekday ridership is declining. ”

    Doesn’t the second chart say weekday ridership is up 1.8% year over year?

    1. Sorry, I was referring to fixed routes. I’ve corrected to say “relatively stagnant.” Either way, 1.8% is barely an increase considering the major increase in frequency. In all likelihood the weekday operating subsidy has increased.

      Finally, I don’t quite understand how to square the overall number with the weekday average boarding figures. How could overall year-over-year ridership be up 1% but the avg boardings be up more than 1% every day of the week?

      1. It’s due to that “fewer actual weekdays” thing.

        As long as Saturday and/or Sunday have significantly lower boardings than a weekday, replacing a weekday with a Saturday/Sunday will be a significant drop in the total boardings for that month.

        Even if saturdays or sundays are doing better than last year. They’re an improvement over last years weekends, but still short of (last years or this years) weekdays.

        Let’s pretend weekdays and Saturdays were totally flat. Replacing a weekday with a Sunday would represent a ~50k drop in monthly ridership. If we went from 4 Sundays to 5, each of those Sundays would have needed to improve to 60k /day instead of 50k /day just to stay flat for the month.

  2. “yet the average bus on Sunday is carrying fewer than half as many passengers as a weekday bus.”

    You’re looking at 47k compared to 101k? Or 37k compared to 73k?

    But you also have to take into account that they run few service hours (fewer buses) on Sunday. They narrowed that disparity during the remap, but it still exists.

    For instance, the 801 peaks at 10 minute frequencies on weekdays. On Sunday it never goes below 15.

    They also run for more hours per day on weekdays (especially Friday night) than on Sunday (start at 5 AM vs. 6 AM, to past midnight vs. 11:30 PM).

    They also still have weekday-only fixed routes (including now the UT shuttles).

    Now, I do expect Sundays are less productive on a per-vehicle-hour basis, but it’s probably not quite as bad as half.

    1. The normal frequent routes (2,7,10 etc) run just as frequently during peak hours on the weekend as during the week. The only difference is that they send a couple extra buses before 6:30 am and a couple 11 pm during the week.

      I stated that Cap Metro estimated the effect of having an extra weekday this month: ridership would have been up 3% overall.

      1. Even “run just as frequently” doesn’t mean the same number of buses. CapMetro has to run more buses to maintain a given frequency when it’s a rush-hour peak.

        Hence leading to that whole #clumpmetro meme.

        Without more data from CapMetro (like a total number of vehicle hours on weekends vs. weekdays) it’s hard to really quantify how big that “big weekend subsidy” actually is.

        There’s also the capital expenditure consideration. Running any more buses on a weekday probably requires spending millions more on buying buses. Running more of the existing buses on weekends adds to operating expenses but less so to capital expenses (possibly wearing out the buses faster, but CM seems to be going to an age-based replacement schedule anyway).

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