JeffTran, the Jefferson City public bus system, will have head-counters in its seats in the coming weeks as a consulting firm pursues a ridership analysis under a system-wide assessment study approved Tuesday night by the City Council.
The council authorized the $75,000 contract with the Lochmueller Group, a research, planning and engineering organization based in Evansville, Indiana, to conduct the on-board study of the city's 22-vehicle bus fleet and JeffTran service area.
Lochmueller and its sub-contractors will place 14-16 staffers on each bus route from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. for two days, collecting passenger counts for each bus route.
Lochmueller will be paid for 80 percent of its work through a Missouri Department of Transportation Surface Transportation Program grant. The city's share of the project will be $11,250, according to Janice McMillan, retiring director of the Department of Planning and Protective Services. The project was earlier approved through the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Based on the head counts, Lochmueller will generate ridership and revenue forecasts, which JeffTran can use in future decision-making regarding Jefferson City's public transportation needs, according to Mark Mehmert, director of the city's transit operations.
Mehmert expects the Lochmueller operatives to be on site within the next 60 days and to finish the report within six months.
JeffTran has 22 drivers for the 38 miles of routes inside city limits. JeffTran logged 313,750 riders in 2015, of which 55,000 were on the specially equipped HandiWheels people movers. That number is expected to slip a tad when 2016 statistics are analyzed, Mehmert has said. JeffTran has 10 HandiWheels units and 12 full-size buses.
"Our ridership is not growing the way we would like it to," Mehmert said, "but we have an almost unique system because of our city's layout and the riding public."
There has not been a pattern of decline in ridership, Mehmert said.
He is anxious to receive the Lochmueller analysis this summer. That report is likely to suggest and could result in changes in schedules, routes and hours — although it's not likely to influence an increase in fares. Mehmert recalls a previous fare increase was recommended and budgeted but snubbed by the City Council when presented for approval.
Close on the heels of the ridership analysis, Mehmert noted, will be the installation of automated vehicle locator and passenger-counting equipment linked to the public, JeffTran's on-board operators and central office by global positioning satellites.
"We haven't finalized those contract details," Mehmert said, "but that will be coming on line later this year, too."
Those improvements will allow riders to follow JeffTran bus movements on their smartphones through a new city app.
Mehmert also mentioned the consideration of a new JeffTran transfer station — "on the futures list," he explained.