Like many public agencies, County Connection operates on a fiscal year that runs from July 1 through June 30, which means we are in the 8th month of our fiscal year 2016. We use the fiscal year to budget and to track things like service productivity and ridership.
To that end, total ridership is up through the first half of this fiscal year (between July and December) over the identical time period last year by 2.5%. This is after we saw an increase in ridership of 8.1% in fiscal year 2015 (July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015) over fiscal year 2014 (July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014).
As we investigate what is behind the gains in ridership, a few things stand out. Fares on routes 5 and 7 in Walnut Creek became free to passengers at one point during fiscal year 2015. Also, both routes were streamlined and overhauled to become more direct. This makes the travel time on the bus, faster.
In the case of Route 5, the City of Walnut Creek has elected to cover the fares on behalf of all Route 5 passengers. This Route provides a direct link between the fairly dense Creekside area to both downtown Walnut Creek, as well as the Walnut Creek BART station. With Route 7, we have a different, but just as effective, approach. Route 7 was streamlined to provide a better direct link between the Shadelands business park in Walnut Creek and the Pleasant Hill BART station. The buses used on this service have been identified as the Shadelands shuttle. The property owners within Shadelands are covering the fares of all the passengers that use Route 7.
Last year, County Connection conducted its triennial passenger survey. Nearly 3,000 completed passenger surveys were collected. Among the information this trove of data provides is the recognition that 36% of our passengers are between the ages of 19 and 35. This group is commonly referred to as the Millennial generation. Various marketing studies strongly suggest that Millennials want to drive less and use more public transportation. They also want to live near good public transit. Consistent with this, we are seeing much of our ridership gains among this age group.
Finally, in 2014, we implemented Bus Tracker. This system allows a passenger to “track” their bus. So, one can download an app that will allow you to see when the bus you want to take will arrive at the bus stop you want to use. This takes the guess work out of “waiting” for the bus at a bus stop. You can also do this from your laptop, work station, etc. This is just one of many ways County Connection is and has implemented technology to greatly improve the bus riding experience.
I believe there is a strong correlation between County Connection ridership gains and the full implementation of Bus Tracker at County Connection.
I think those transit systems that embrace and take full advantage of technology will continue to see increases in ridership. This is exciting to consider because transportation-based technology advances are only at their beginning stages and promise to make riding public transit even easier and more efficient. If you aren’t using our Bus Tracker I encourage you to give it a try!