I made an animation of CATA's weekday bus service:
cool look like bugs!
That's impressive, David!
Okay, so now we're in a disturbing trend for CATA. They recently released their fiscal year 2017 ridership numbers. Here is the trend dating back to 2014:
2015: 11,432,364 (-1.3)
2016: 10,896,146 (-4.6)
2017: 10,241,340 (-6.0)
I believe 2013 was the peak, but I can't find the numbers for that year. Anyway, CATA has lost a whopping 1,343,663 riders (-11.6) since 2014, most of it in the last two years which means the loss is accelerating. This even while the region's growth is actually accelerating. There are normal ebbs-and-flows with transit; ridership usually levels off as the economy gets better, and gains riders when the economy is poor, but this decline is beyond normal and points to some kind of problem with CATA's marketing at the very least.
I guess the good thing is that the agency got a new CEO a week or two ago. The not-so-good news is that he's the one that killed the BRT plan. I'll give him a year to see how he plans to have things turn around, but this is really kind of embarrassing. For years CATA was the second highest ridden transit agency in the state. Heck, it gave more riders than Indianapolis' transit system which is an area many, many times bigger. Recently, Grand Rapids caught up, which isn't surprising since it's over twice the size of metro Lansing. CATA is going to have to figure out why its ridership is cratering even as we've been getting more and more residents on our urban corridors. An improving economy and ride-share companies account for some of that loss, no doubt, but I can't imagine anything more than a fraction of the 1.34 million riders lost in three years.
There are so many things CATA could do to improve ridership. 24-hour service on the busiest routes might be a place to start. I am not sure how they could do this, but I think folks around here feel like the only reason to ride the bus is that you don't own a car. Not owning a car equals poor. Change that image, make the ride more comfortable, more convenient, even interesting!. Offer a bus ride-hailing service at a higher fare. Just a few thoughts that come to mind. I hope the new leader will think "outside the box" a bit and get a small percent of the people who now drive their own vehicles and are the reason that so much of our landscape is covered with surface parking lots, on to a CATA bus.
CATA could use some updating. Route 1 is the only that I'd call convenient and even that could be improved.
The two main things I'd like to see is an updated app that allows you to buy tickets, and routes that continue going east-west or north-south past the transportation center. In 2017, I shouldn't have to carry around change or go to a booth in order to buy bus tickets. And having to transfer just to go from the north end of town to the south end of town, for example, is a very annoying inconvenience that has definitely limited my bus usage.
About the only competitive advantages CATA has over Uber or Lyft is that it's cheaper and probably better for the environment. I can't think of anything else. If the ridesharing companies ever master having multiple people share the same ride, municipal bus service will be dead.
It would seem fairly easy to have through buses that just stop at the transportation center, allowing passengers to stay on the same bus if they want to ride further past the center. I could see routes that go to outlying bus stop hubs and never even go downtown, but go to the commercial districts that surround the city kind of like circle routes. They could also offer commuters service routes from the state park and ride lots outside of the city.
A few things, since I see some of my comments have been used as a jump-off to bash the idea of public transit...
While there are definitely ways to improve ticket purchase, such as being able to buy and show a ticket on the phone and have the bus scan it like you can at many airports, now, you can indeed buy tickets online. There are also nearly two-dozen places around the metro to buy passes and tokens. CATA also has a really helpful app that allows you to track a bus and plan a trip to see if it's worth it. Also, you can indeed stay on the bus when it stops at the transit center to continue on your trip.
Now, for improvements. I've been saying forever that they need better east-west coverage on the southside of Lansing, and I've also advocated for multiple circulator routes. They really need to do a complete study of their routes and see if they need to stick with the hub-and-spoke layout of routes or not.
Other than that, I'm a (sometimes) rider and fan of CATA and public transit in general. But to go from setting ridership records and winning awards to ridership cratering while the areas is in its biggest era of urban redevelopment ever shows that something is wrong up top. This is not unfixable, but it's something attention needs to be paid to.