A 10 percent drop in bus ridership last year has transportation officials closely watching this year’s numbers trend.
Ridership took central stage in Tuesday morning’s Transit Division’s year-end report to the County Board’s Transportation Committee.
Commuter Express provides weekday public bus service between Washington and Milwaukee counties. Riders use the service to get to jobs, medical services and schools in Milwaukee County.
The Shared-Ride Taxi Service provides rides for the public and door-to-door transportation for the elderly and disabled within the county.
Commuter Express ridership in 2013 dipped to 116,067, according to Transit Division statistics, 11,468 fewer rides than 2012’s 127,535, which, in turn, was 16 rides fewer than record year 2011.
The taxi service’s record year also was in 2011, with 99,587. In 2012, taxi ridership dropped to 92,941 and last year climbed to 94,457, about 95 percent of 2011’s record.
“A lot of it correlates with gas prices,” Stier said. A gallon of gasoline averaged $3.61 nationally in 2012, according to the Oil Price Information Service, and $3.51 in 2011. Last year the average national price for a gallon was $3.49.
“When gas (prices) goes up our ridership skyrockets,” Stier said. And when the price of a gallon goes down, so does bus ridership.
“It’s raised a lot of red flags,” Stier said of last year’s decline. The trend has continued in the first quarter this year, as well, he said. “We’re watching it.” First-quarter figures for the taxi service remain steady. “This year, so far, the taxi service is holding its own,” Stier said.
The shrinking number of bus riders also may be tied to the state Department of Transportation’s ongoing reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee, Stier said.
That forces Commuter Express buses onto detour routes, which add 10-15 minutes to trips, Stier said. Some riders may be sliding back behind the steering wheels of their cars to try to make better time to and from work. “There’s nothing we can do about it,” Stier said of the delays.