Monday, May 26, 2014

Riders versus Ridership

Good day my friends from around the globe! I hope that today has found each one of you safe and sound. Woke up this morning to a very sunny day and though the clouds have since covered the sun and released their stock of accumulated moisture (it's raining), I am still having a rather sun-shiny kind of day. Today's blog entry comes courtesy of a discussion I was having with a co-worker in regards to Metro Transit here in Halifax. However, I am certain that some of this will apply to any public transit system anywhere. Let's get started!

I suppose the first place to begin would be by defining what I mean by riders and ridership and the differences between the two. I think that by defining them you should also get a general concept of the difference between the two. For this post, I intend to define riders as the actual people who use public transit; the individuals who ride the bus. I define ridership a little differently. Ridership, for  my purposes, is defined by the economic aspect of transit. It is the dollar amount of profit and volume of passengers on any given route, on any given day, at any given time. Ridership includes riders but riders does not include ridership. I hope that wasn't too confusing. On to the topic at hand.

As we were having a discussion on some of the shortcomings of public transit, my co-worker pointed out that it felt like Metro Transit was more concerned about ridership and not so much riders. This immediately struck me. First, I had never considered the differences between riders and ridership and second, because I had not considered this I also had not considered the impact that that could have on determining how Metro Transit operates.

When you take into consideration nothing but the financial side of the operation, the ridership, it is very easy to see how and why certain decisions are made. If a bus route is often empty or a route is not producing a high enough margin of recouping losses, it will most likely become the victim of cuts; either the frequency or the route entirely. Transit fare rates are most likely also determined based on ridership as well. If the volume does not justify the service there will be an increase in costs. This is all absolutely understandable when considering decisions as a business. But Metro Transit is not a business; it is a service.

There is a big difference between a private business and a public service and a somewhat finer line between private service and public business. Private business provides service to private citizens at a cost; public service provides public service paid for through taxation and minor fees; private service is similar to private business but offers an alternative to public service at a higher cost; and public business is providing a service to the public at a lower cost than private business. Transit, in my own perspective, is a public service.

A public service ought to serve the public for which it owes it's existence: both physically and financially. Metro Transit should be shaping and creating policy and decision making processes based primarily first on riders and secondarily on ridership; riders should always trump ridership. I can already here some of the more conservative of you out there and the opposition you are surely preparing to bring forth; that's alright. It's part of the process.

When you approach from the point of view of riders, you are looking at the system with people in mind. Residents who depend and require access to affordable, reliable and timely public transit. If the public transit system does not bring all these things to the table, it begins to fail it's citizens and they in turn, lose trust in the public service being provided.

By shaping the system to accommodate the rider, not the ridership, you will most definitely face obstacles and struggles in the onset. There will be losses; there will be mistakes; there will be growing pains. The end result however will be a transit system that works for the people who ride it and functions as an intricate and essential part of our growing metropolis of a city. People need public transit.

They need public transit to go to work, to go to school, to daycare, to recreational activities, to visit family, to visit friends, to support the city, etc, etc, etc. There are countless, inumerous reasons to provide a functional public transit system for ridership reasons but there is only one reason necessary to provide this for riders: people. People make up this city; people drive the buses; people work the jobs; people pay the taxes; people support the city; people make things possible. Let's take care of people, not profits.

While I don't have the answers, no one person ever does, I do have ideas; some of which I've shared before. One persistent idea that remains that I will continue to voice for is the hours of operation for our public transit system. Even in our country-style city, we live in a twenty four hour world. A twenty four hour world operating every single minute of every single day and we operate on a transit system that runs, at best, 16-17 hours a day. That number is for weekdays and decreases significantly in frequency and volume on the weekends which is odd because there is as much activity here on Saturdays particularly as there is on any given weekday. It is time to expand the hours in which Transit operates as just one example of changes in favor of riders versus ridership that needs to come.

I'm sure that there are things that I don't know about the operations at Metro Transit; rules, regulations and what not that I have no knowledge of that may affect the decision and policy making process but they can be changed. A public service should service the public and not the pocket book. While I am an idealist, I am not naive enough to think that such a system can exist without some recuperation via fares and taxation however I do believe that more is possible. Change can be scary and tough but it creates improvement and by improving our public transit system we entice and encourage more riders to jump on the bus, as it were.

Remember, you cannot have ridership without riders.

Thank you all once again for taking the time to read and/or to share. I look forward to having something else to share with you tomorrow. Today is rather exciting day for me full of real possibility and I hope that I will have opportunity to share a positive, end result to today. As always:

Love Yourself.
Love Each Other.