Declining bus ridership

Bus ridership is declining.  In fact, mass transit nationwide has seen reductions in riders, to the point that the advocates are becoming concerned.

The national trend has been seen in Gwinnett County.  Here are the numbers of riders for all bus routes for the past three years (as of this writing no data was available for 2018):

2015 – 1,586,355

2016 – 1,496,448

2017 – 1,437,137

This is not just a short term trend and use of the bus service has dwindled for years – in fact, there were almost 2.4 million trips in 2009, meaning that ridership is now just sixty percent of what it was 8 years ago.

These numbers are for the local bus routes and Commuter Bus routes – commonly called Express Service – combined.  The Express Service is generally thought to be the most popular, but surprisingly these routes have seen an almost 20% year to year decline:

2015 – 582,089

2016 – 474,365

2017 – 378,515

And as the graph on the right shows a decline in Express Bus Ridership has fallen drastically for years.

This should concern Marta proponents because routes like the Express are one of their selling points.  Realize also that this ridership decline is taking place as the number of commuters (and those working in Gwinnett) continues to increase.

Look across the country and you will find the same thing. In a pro-transit article published last year titled “The Stark (and Hopeful) Facts About Bus Ridership,” they make a rather dismal statement about mass transit – “It’s not a death spiral—at least, not yet.”  And the data they present is not encouraging for those pushing bus service in Gwinnett.

Numbers released last month from the Federal Transit Administration’s National Transit Database show a 2.5 percent decline in total transit ridership from 2016 to 2017, with bus ridership leading the way with a 5 percent drop. This nationwide decline in transit ridership has been in progress since 2014, despite growth in U.S. population and employment.

Nationwide only four regions, Seattle, Phoenix, Houston, and New Orleans, saw an overall increase in transit use (across trains, buses, and other modes) in 2017, and Georgia wasn’t one of them.  Bus ridership nationwide was down almost 20% since 2008 and is now at its lowest level in the past 30 years.

MARTA has not been spared the transit losses.  MARTA’s ridership has been falling for a decade, down 22 percent since 2008 (in spite of Federal predictions of an increase in ridership of 40% between 2000 and 2025).  Finding data on the Gwinnett Transit system was not that difficult, but to get actual per rider costs for MARTA has proved to be quite a challenge.  Nobody argues that MARTA is losing money, but the magnitude is difficult to measure.  When showing Operating Revenues, they show an annual loss of over $500 million, and this doesn’t count capital expenses.  Plus they show over $2.2 billion in debt on their balance sheet.  All of that while MARTA is consistently one of the nations least affordable systems to ride.

If you have ridden a Gwinnett bus and compared it with its MARTA counterpart you will realize how much nicer the Gwinnett busses are.  Experts agree that if MARTA is allowed to expand into Gwinnett they will dump their older busses into our county.  So how does anyone think that replacing the newer Gwinnett busses with relics from the aging MARTA fleet is going to stop the decline in ridership?

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