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Bus ridership down in both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in 2016

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

In what almost seemed like a monthly occurrence in recent years, the PR staffs of both the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit agency (HART) and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) were regularly issuing out press releases touting record ridership numbers.

That is definitely not the case in 2016.

Speaking at the agency’s Finance and Audit Committee meeting Monday, HART CEO Katherine Eagan said ridership in 2016 is down some “five to six percent” in the current fiscal year, a trend she said is similar to other transit agencies across the country. “We do know that without exception, we’re looking at a contraction probably due to lower gas prices, the arrival of more options for transportation, and a few other things that we might not be getting our hands around,” she said.

Eagan said the agency will be doing more outreach with customers next year that will help in understanding the declining trend. And she said other important indexes are up, including vehicle miles traveled (VMT). “That makes our accomplishments — on-time performance and safety — and our biggest improvement on maintenance more notable.  We’re giving more reliable service, (and having) fewer collisions.”

PSTA’s ridership is also down this year. Total bus revenue trips are down 11 percent, and total fixed route passenger trips are down more than 12 percent.

In Washington D.C., Metrobus, the nation’s sixth-largest bus system with an average of 465,000 daily riders, saw a 3 percent decline in the first half of the fiscal year compared with the same period the previous year. In Los Angeles, the number of people riding buses and trains in L.A. county has dropped by about 9 percent, from 1.49 million average weekday boardings in 2014 to 1.36 million in the second quarter of fiscal year 2016.

From 2010-2015, HART’s ridership grew nearly 20 percent, which far exceeded the national standard at that time, Eagan says. “As we were really growing, there was definitely a component of gas is getting more expensive … we also had service improvements in 2008-10.”

Experts say the drop is due to a variety of factors, including changing job markets, falling gas prices and the growing popularity of other transportation options such as biking, and app-based services such as Uber and Lyft.

Then again, perhaps ridership numbers might have plateaued in 2014. Americans took 10.8 billion trips on public transportation that year, the highest annual public transit ridership number in 58 years, according to a report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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