Trolley, bus ëdonít goí where folks live

That’s what the headline says, and this time it isn’t D.C., it’s San Diego:

A four-year decline in Metropolitan Transit System ridership appears to stem from a failure to adjust to San Diego’s changing residential and job patterns, the agency has concluded. The 10.6 percent dip in bus and trolley boardings has occurred despite steps to increase service systemwide and an improvement in the regional job picture… The analysis has major implications for the transit agency’s strategy for balancing its $182 million operations budget against deficits projected to grow as high as $31 million by fiscal 2009. It also comes in the middle of a route-by-route, stop-by-stop study of transit services, which may end with sweeping changes to transit schedules … Despite a long-standing correlation between jobs and ridership, the 10.8 percent drop in ridership occurred during a 7.8 percent increase in jobs. But the manufacturing industry, which places thousands of workers at central locations with predictable work shifts, is down 15 percent since 2000.

This also shows that bus transit, even with its flexibility, has a tough time staying relevant in a changing society. What could be done? The Allegheny Institute faces the same issue in its area:

Bus ridership at PAT has plummeted by almost 12 percent since 2000 following a very small rise from the 1996 level. In fiscal 2005, labor costs have skyrocketed because of health and pension payments. Indeed, total bus operating costs have risen an estimated 16 percent in two years. Unfortunately, during a period in which ridership was relatively flat or declining, PAT increased hours of bus operations by 20 percent from 1996 to 2002. As a result, riders per hour have plunged, pushing up per passenger costs.

Here AI offers some suggestions, including cutting underused routes and embracing competitive contracting.