Despite a dramatic drop in gas prices, the Capital District Transportation Authority said on Monday that October was its best month for ridership since the early 1990s.
Last month, the CDTA saw its ridership in Saratoga, Schenectady, Albany and Rensselaer counties increase to nearly 1.5 million boardings, a 13 percent increase from October 2007, and a 6 percent increase over this September.
But will these increases last with gas prices dropping to almost $2 per gallon in many parts of the Capital Region?
“They seem to be continuing at this point,” said Margo Janack, a CDTA spokeswoman. She said the authority doesn’t have the November ridership numbers yet, but trends appear to be continuing.
“These are the highest ridership numbers we’ve seen possibly since the early ‘90s and, despite a recent drop in gas prices, they continue to climb,” CDTA chairman David Stackrow said in a statement released Monday.
“It appears that people who have made the switch to ride CDTA over driving have come to see its benefits and chosen to remain loyal riders,” Stackrow said.
Ridership in 2008, so far, is up 15 percent over 2007, on course to exceed 15 million boardings this year. In 2006, ridership on CDTA buses was 2 million less than this year, according to information released Monday by the authority.
A recent route analysis conducted on the authority’s trunk and neighborhood routes between 2005 and 2008 show four routes that have seen a ridership increase of more than 60 percent during the three-year period.
Janack said these routes include:
u No. 52, the Scotia/Crane Street route in Schenectady County.
u No. 4, Pine Hills, and No. 5, Northern Boulevard in Albany County.
u No. 24, Albany-Troy via Rensselaer in Rensselaer County.
The CDTA’s Route 50 route that connects Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County with Schenectady County has also experienced very high ridership, according to CDTA officials. Janack said the Saratoga County routes are too new to be included in the analysis because many were started in 2007.
Yet the CDTA is pursuing its first rate increase since 1995. The authority will be holding public hearings on the proposed fare increase from $1 to $1.50 in 2006 at locations in the four counties it serves in early December.
Janack said the increased ridership the CDTA has experienced helps, but does not cover the large increases in the authority’s operating expenses in recent years.
The “fare box money” represents just 20 percent of the authority’s total operating revenues, Janack said.
The CDTA is facing a $9 million budget deficit in 2009 unless something is done. The increase in bus fares will generate about $4.5 million to offset the deficit, Janack said.
The authority is also looking at consolidating some services and transferring money from its capital fund to operational accounts to offset the deficit, she said.
The CDTA’s 2007-08 operating budget is about $71 million. The state and federal governments both provide the CDTA with grant money on an annual basis.
“We anticipate that the fiscal year 2009-10 [budget] will be higher due to higher operating costs,” Janack said. The CDTA’s fiscal year runs from April 1 through March 31.
Ridership on the CDTA buses has been steadily increasing over the last few years since the introduction of its Simplefare program and other changes, according to a CDTA statement. The expansion of the Saratoga County bus routes in 2007 and the introduction of modern, air conditioned buses is another reason for ridership growing, according to the authority.
“In addition to this year’s high gas prices, increased ridership can be attributed to CDTA’s efforts to improve its service, and implementation of new technology that enhances communications and customer amenities,” the CDTA statement said.