In 2013, Americans took a total of 10.7 billion trips on public transportation, the highest annual transit ridership number in more than 57 years, according to a report released earlier this month by the American Public Transportation Association.
Last year was the eighth year in a row public transportation trips exceeded 10 billion across the nation. Public transportation ridership increased 1.1 percent over 2012, while vehicle miles traveled on roads increased by just .3 percent.
One of the contributing factors to the increased ridership numbers, especially of late, is the economic recovery in some cities. When more people are employed, public transportation ridership increases since work commutes account for close to 60 percent of all trips on public transportation, the release stated.
Denver was one of several major cities to report record ridership numbers in 2013, but municipalities with populations of 100,000 or less also reported an average ridership increase of 3.8 percent in 2013.
The Summit Stage Free Bus system in Summit County, however, wasn’t one of them — albeit by a small margin.
In 2013, residents and visitors took 1,864,565 trips on Summit Stage’s fixed-route system, down .9 percent, or 18,510 trips, compared with 2012.
To be fair, Summit Stage director Jim Andrew said unforeseen cost increases for fuel forced the Transit Advisory Board last summer to trim some of its service routes. Had it not cut service, Andrew said, 2013 ridership would have been on par with or exceeded the national average.
Nevertheless, Summit Stage might finally be benefiting from the rebounding economy, but in a slightly different way than its cousins in the big city, Andrew said. Unlike the heavily populated metros of Denver, Chicago and New York, Summit County boasts a little more than 28,000 permanent residents.
However, Summit annually attracts anywhere between 3 million and 4 million visitors, many of whom ride the Summit Stage, Andrew said.
In the big cities, “When more people are employed they take the bus or the train to work,” he said. “For us, when more people are employed they come here to ski.
“We are definitely seeing a benefit because more people in our workforce are employed, but more importantly our ridership numbers are trending up in 2014 because of the people that decided to come here to visit.”
In January, Summit Stage reported 245,217 total rides, up 1 percent, or 1,508 trips, compared with January 2013. February ridership numbers were slightly better, beating February 2013 numbers by 4.5 percent. Year to date, ridership numbers are at 467,871, up from 456,690 for the same period in 2013, or a change of 2.4 percent.
“That’s a daily ridership average of almost 8,000 people per day; that’s a significant number for a small system like ours,” Andrew said. “We probably see half that in the summer, but that’s still a lot of people riding the bus every day in a county of 28,000.”