COLUMBIA — After adjusting its bus routes in August, Columbia Transit has seen a significant increase in ridership.
Between August and October of this year, the city experienced a dramatic 12 percent rise in public bus use. That statistic dwarfs numbers seen from 2009 to 2010 — when public transit saw a 0.9 percent increase — with total ridership at 2,025,229 as of Sept. 30.
The new figures are cited in a report by the Department of Public Works. The report will be read at Monday’s City Council meeting.
“We’re seeing an increase on a lot of different routes,” department spokeswoman Jill Stedem said. “We are foreseeing that the number will be even higher.”
On Aug. 2, Columbia Transit adjusted its bus routes and schedules after a year of planning.
“We made pretty substantial changes to most of the routes, mostly to fix the timing issues,” transportation supervisor Drew Brooks said. The route adjustments were intended to solve problems of efficiency and timeliness in the transit system.
“The biggest change is getting our routes back on the 40-minute intervals,” Stedem said. “When the Orange Route was delayed, it delayed the whole system. That is one area that has changed for us.”
Comparing ridership from November 2010 to that in November 2009, considerably more people have been riding Columbia Transit’s Gold, Blue and Green routes, according to a report compiled by Brooks. Of those, the Gold Route has seen the largest increase in riders.
“It’s business as usual,” Brooks said of the new data. “Except the Gold Route.”
The Gold Routes, which connect MU to stops along South Providence Road and Old 63, have increased ridership by 46 percent, from 54,113 rides in November 2009 to 78,861 rides in November 2010. Since August this year, ridership has increased by an additional 55 percent.
“Every year we see the Gold Routes increase, and that’s the student population from the Old 63 area,” Stedem said.
“We’d certainly like to expand in that area,” Brooks said. "That kind of growth is really hard to accommodate without putting more buses on the street."
Columbia Transit is still working to accommodate the increase, but Brooks said increases in the bus fleet are limited by funding. At this time, the city can only replace old vehicles, not expand the fleet overall.
Next fall, the city plans to purchase three new buses, two of which will be replacements.
Although the increase in ridership has certainly increased transit revenue, bus fares are only 10 percent of Columbia Transit’s operating budget, Brooks said. The agency relies on federal grants to expand service.
Other routes have felt the boost, though not as profoundly as the Gold Route. The Blue Route, which connects northwest Columbia with downtown, has increased ridership by 19 percent since 2009, to 8,101 rides in November 2010.
The Green Route, which connects northeast Columbia with downtown via Paris Road, gained 17 percent more riders in the same time frame, with 9,539 rides in November 2010.
Columbia Transit also added the Black Route when it made route changes in August, adding 7,158 rides from August to November 2010. The new route connects MU and downtown with areas around East Nifong Boulevard between Old 63 and Providence Road on the city’s south side.
“We’re obviously trying to monitor these routes very closely,” Brooks said. “It is the first step of gradually changing the system.”