JeffTran ridership dipped 3.5 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, but city transit officials believe they are finding ways to help reverse that trend.
The High Street West route was the only bus route where ridership increased in the past year, JeffTran Director Mark Mehmert said. Overall, JeffTran provided 299,408 total rides in 2016.
"We are in the midst of a system-wide assessment, which may result in reconfigured routes and route intervals, geared toward better serving potential riders," Mehmert said.
Much of the decline has been attributed to the hours of service, as well as the design of some routes that are not as rider-friendly as they could be. Some people walk up to 30 minutes to get to a bus stop.
During recent public forums, community members noted longer hours of service, including weekends, were the biggest changes the service needed to make. Buses currently run 6:40 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"We also believe the addition of three new systems will make the bus system much more simple and more friendly to navigate — similar to how folks now use their phones or GPS to plan trips and get turn-by-turn directions in a personal vehicle," Mehmert said.
The new systems in the process of procurement include Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL), Automatic Passenger Counters (APC) and Automatic Voice Annunciation (AVA).
Mehmert said an enhanced AVL system would enable JeffTran riders to see where the buses are within a three-second lag time; plan trips using a desktop, notebook, tablet or mobile app; and determine when a bus will arrive at any bus stop using a simple texting function.
APC would enable JeffTran administrators to determine where and how many riders are boarding and getting off buses, which could allow for better management of the transit system as well as provide for a smoother reporting mechanism to the National Transit Database.
AVA would enable JeffTran riders with sight issues to hear clear, automatic announcements of arriving and upcoming stops. Since signage is also part of this new capacity, JeffTran riders with hearing issues will be able to read announcements.
Mehmert said they had to re-issue a request for proposals for these systems due to the omission of some required clauses in the initial request, but a recommendation on a vendor should be ready for the City Council to consider next month.
Earlier this year, the City Council authorized a contract with the Lochmueller Group to conduct an on-board study of the city's 22-vehicle bus fleet and JeffTran service area. Lochmueller and its subcontractors placed staff on each bus route for two days, collecting passenger counts.
Based on those counts, Lochmueller will generate ridership and revenue forecasts, which JeffTran can use in future decision-making.
Online surveys and surveys at upcoming public events like Thursday Night Live also will help gather more information.
Mehmert expects the Lochmueller Group to submit the report to the city by the end of October.