Some buses in Gainesville have more empty seats now than they had a year ago.
The Regional Transit System’s passengers have flocked away from using the buses in the hundreds of thousands. Although ridership has decreased by 6 percent between 2014 and 2015, routes and buses haven’t disappeared.
According to Chip Skinner, RTS marketing and communications supervisor, there are more routes and services this year than previous years. And the revenue coming in has stayed the same.
“This has been a nationwide phenomenon,” Skinner said. “Everyone has seen a decrease [in passengers].”
He said there are a number of factors that could be causing the 563,185 decline in passenger trips. One major factor is the decrease in gas prices, which makes cars and scooters more affordable for students and residents alike.
The University of Florida supplies more than half of RTS’s budget. This year they provided over $13 million through student transportation fees, which is a fee attached to UF student’s tuition.
If students are moving closer to campus, buying more parking permits or enrolling full time in UF’s online program, they have less use for the bus system, Skinner said.
“We also receive federal grant money and they are looking at the ridership numbers,” he said.
The number of riders determines how much grant money Gainesville’s RTS receives. However, Skinner said they could lose around 1 million more riders before the federal grant money started to decrease.
In December, RTS is getting six new buses to add to its fleet, all of them being bought with federal grants. Each bus costs $400,000.
So, the decline in ridership hasn’t had a wide impact on the RTS buses.
In fact, Corey Tirce said the buses he uses to get back and forth to work are usually filled with about 20 people. His biggest concern is getting a bus to pick him up on time.
“Sometimes it’s on time,” said Tirce, who uses the bus five times a week. “Other days, when I need to get to work, it’s less dependable.”
According to Skinner, RTS changes their routes in the summer, winter and fall, to figure out the best ways to pick up the most people. The constant changes effect riders for the good and the bad.
“We’ve seen a continual drop [in riders],” Skinner said. “Usually we will see a drop but then bounce back the next year.”
But that hasn’t happened yet.
For now, Skinner urges Gainesville residents to ride the bus.
“We always say one equals 72,” he said. “Because 72 passengers equal a full bus. That’s taking 72 cars off the roadways. It helps the environment and benefits the community as a whole.”