Local bus ridership is up, and a long winter of treacherous roads, plowed-in cars, and iced-over windshields is only a small factor in the increase. As frequent CDTA customer Sean Gordon of Albany said, “It’s convenient. Lot of routes, lots of times.”
Continuing an eight-year up cycle, CDTA reported on Tuesday that 2013 saw its ridership increase to 16.3 million, almost a record high. “Customer increases have been across the board . . . driven by efforts to showcase the transit system as a better way to travel through the Capital Region,” said CDTA chairman David Stackrow in the report. “CDTA’s near-record increase is due to its innovative transit system and new customer programs.”
The increase reflects the national trend of rising levels of public transportation patronage: According to a report by the American Public Transit Association released on Monday, Americans took 10.7 billion trips aboard public transit, the highest level in 57 years.
“Americans in growing numbers want to have more public transit services,” said APTA chair Peter Varga in a press release. “There is a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities.”
Both reports see increased ridership as an indication of, and integral part of, economic growth, with a majority of customers using public transit for commuting to work. In a response to customer demand, on Monday (March 17), CDTA will begin enhanced service options for its No. 50 route, which encompasses Quad Graphics and Grande Industrial Park.
According to the APTA, public transit patronage is outpacing population growth and VMT (vehicle miles traveled) by a substantial margin.
“I see CDTA’s increased ridership as very positive for our region and a sign that people are catching on to the benefits of taking the bus,” said Albany Common Councilwoman Leah Golby. Golby is one of a growing number of residents who walk, bike, bus, or a combination of all three, instead of driving a vehicle for transportation. “Less cars on our streets alleviates parking concerns and helps to reduce greenhouse gases,” she added.
CDTA’s Bikeable Bus program is among its most popular. Begun in 2007, it outfitted its entire regular-route bus fleet with dual bike racks. Last year, more than 75,000 riders boarded with bikes. Other system improvements that factor into the ridership increase are CDTA’s Bus Rapid Transit network, while new BusPlus routes with fewer stops showed the highest rise in ridership. More BusPlus routes are in the works, along with enhanced collection systems that will include smartcard and mobile payments. More riders can also mean more likelihood of federal public-transit investment.
“I’d like to see BusPlus routes incorporate more BRT features such as prepaid fares and entry from all doors,” said Golby, “and bus lanes. And more frequency and 24-hour service would be great.”
UPDATE: The figure for CDTA passengers with bikes has been corrected.