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Empty Buses and Mass Transit – Part 1

As you’ve probably read and figured out by now, I’m a proponent of mass transit. Even here in sleepy little Eugene, Oregon (well, maybe “sleepy” isn’t the right term, but I think you get my point). We are currently having a community “discussion” about extending the West Eugene EmX line. In many places, there are “No Build” signs from people and businesses who don’t want the extension of our BRT (bus rapid transit) EmX system.

One of the arguments against the BRT (and, I think the bus system in general) is the comment about “empty buses”. I hear people (generally non-bus-riders) often comment, “the buses are running empty most of the time, why am I paying subsidies to run empty buses?” or “we should charge riders what it actually costs to run the bus and not tax employers” and “LTD (Lane Transit District) is cutting routes, why are they spending money on extending the EmX?”

Over the next few posts, I’d like to comment on each of these.

Empty Buses
I’ve been riding now for about a year. Not every day, but often; probably about 35-50% of my commuting is now by bus. I won’t go into my philosophy on this (but I would encourage you to read some of my previous posts). But I do want to respond to the “empty bus” comments. As I ride to work, I catch the 36 at my Park and Ride in West Eugene, head to Eugene Station (our “hub”), then transfer to the 66 to my office. When the 36 arrives at my Park and Ride, there are probably 4 or 5 people on board. As we approach downtown, we end up with probably 20+. From downtown (on the 66), we start with 10-15 people. As we approach the midpoint of the “loop”, we drop people off at work and at Valley River Center (about the halfway mark), we’re often down to 1 or 2 people. And this continues for maybe one or two stops, then we start picking up people again as the 66 loops back into town.

And here’s my point: at any time if a person looks at a bus, it may have 20 or more people or it may have 1 or 2. At the times you see 1 or 2 people, I would bet the bus is at the midpoint of its loop, having dropped off a bunch of folks and is now starting to pick people up. A better observation would be to see how many are on the bus into and out of Eugene Station; that would be a better test of true ridership.

And I can tell you at those points, the buses are often standing-room only.

Next Post: Money and Subsidies

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7 Responses so far.

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