Last Tuesday, the City Council voted to pay UMd DOT (Dept. of Transportation) another $6000, so that City residents can ride the UM-Shuttle services one more year, free of cost.
The discussion preceding the council vote in continuing UM-Shuttle services largely was centered on the money part – the ridership cost. Little discussion or studies we can see in finding what is causing the continuation of this low ridership.
The City started the UM-Shuttle partnership program back in 2008, but has found the riderships keep going downward until recently.
On the surface, the City’s UM-Shuttle contract sounds like a dream program comes true. It promotes the culture of public transportation, a term that everyone, especially our politicians love to talk. Then, or may be most importantly, the program tries to bring the two groups of City residents in one place. Doesn’t this look good when you see a long time city resident sitting next to a UMd student? Who said there is a cultural clash between these two groups? This certainly sounds like the beginning of a new peaceful era in our City’s history.
But let’s face this – the UM-shuttle contract isn’t working. The ridership is going down every year, and the City is losing money at the end.
Could scrapping the contract altogether is the only solution? That probably is likely to happen next year, whether we like or not.
Instead of predicting the future, I think our time will be better spent if we concentrate on what is causing this low ridership.
First, let’s face this, very few of our residents really know about the program. When they see the UM-Shuttle, there is no way to know for them if they can ride those buses. The first thing that probably crosses their minds is – this isn’t for them to ride, it’s for students. I know the City has the information on its website and some of our bus stops also have the information posted, but how the residents who don’t use any public transportation now can find this information? Isn’t this marketing 101, Duh? Get the word out first o its customers who really need them.
Then there is the question of real demands for such ridership, given the routes these shuttles take. For example, the only bus route that go through our neighborhood is 110 – Seven Spring apartments. Unless someone works for the UMd, why would someone take this bus, I wonder. If a resident wants to go to DC or neighboring cities, s/he would most likely take Metro bus or train.
Some may also argue that these shuttles aren’t quite frequent, as studies have shown upping frequencies can increase bus riderships. But I don’t think that is the case. The shuttles actually runs fairly frequently during rush hours, as frequent as every 20 minutes or so.
Seriously, let’s not do this guessing game. I think the City along with its neighborhood groups should do a study / survey on expected ridership from its residents before it decides the fate of this partnership program. Who knows there may be a serious demand for a shuttle program for its residents? – Let’s find that out first.