(July 12, 2019) Despite bus ridership dropping nearly 6 percent this June over the year prior, the Transportation Committee reported this week revenue was virtually identical to 2018, while ongoing staffing issues continue to create deployment challenges.
Transit Manager Mark Rickards said the roughly 575,000 passengers who used resort buses this June represents a 5.9 percent decrease from the approximately 611,000 riders recorded during June 2018.
The largest drop-off was noted in the first half of June, Rickards said.
“High school graduates are just not riding in the same numbers,” he said.
Regardless, Rickards noted profits remained stable.
“Our June revenue is down only .15 percent or almost even, [although] ridership is down,” he said. “Looking at June overall, we had a very high bar set.”
Rickards said the largest rider counts were on June 15, when 26,809 people hopped the bus during the annual OC Air Show, compared to 21,573 the year prior.
Transit Operations Manager Steve Bartlett said the revenue disparity could be attributable to over-payments.
“In some instances, people paid a lot more than $3 for a ticket,” he said. “We found $100 bills in three boxes.”
Rickards also noted the average length of stay for “senior week,” revelers seemed abbreviated, with a noticeable decline in early week bus usage.
“If kids came in on a Wednesday or Thursday, they were gone by the following Monday or Tuesday,” he said. “That was our slowest days [and] in the past were some of the busiest days.”
Turning the page to July, Rickards said ridership statistics increased this Independence Day weekend with 70,206 passengers from July 4-6 compared to 63,976 in 2018.
Albeit for a small sample size, Rickards noted July ridership thus far is down 3 percent compared to last year.
“We had a very promising July 4 [that] was up from last year with 29,407 riders,” he said.
This figure tops the 27,493 riders last July 4, Rickards said.
Shifting to staffing concerns, Mayor Rick Meehan inquired about deployment challenges.
Bartlett said while scheduling for morning shifts is problematic, there are other hurdles that also need to be addressed.
“It’s all across the board,” he said.
Bartlett said although covering overnight shifts from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. has not proven difficult, the case changes for morning and afternoon time slots.
Meehan noted the time frames proving difficult to fill are less than ideal.
“The shifts are open during the busiest times and that’s a problem,” he said.
The unfilled schedule spots represent staffing needs, with unanticipated call-outs further exacerbating the issue, Bartlett said.
“That’s one fifth of the scheduled day [staff],” he said.
Meehan said the twin challenges of an insufficient number of drivers and call-outs needs to be remedied.
Public Works Director Hal Adkins said Human Resources Director Wayne Evans had been enlisted to assist with recruiting staff for this season.
“If you were to ask Wayne about recruitment issues, his comment would be the people don’t exist,” he said.
Despite exploring new means to find employees, including previously unused advertising avenues and participating in numerous job fairs, Adkins said the lack of available CDL drivers is glaring.
“With the way the economy is right now, they don’t exist, especially if you’ve got a CDL license,” he said.
Meehan said other methods should be pursued to fill staffing needs.
“It’s obviously the most difficult things to hire the number of driver’s, number one, and, number two, to have them available for the critical shifts,” he said.
Bartlett said the employment pool is further muddied by the loss of half a dozen staff members because of medical issues or other challenges.
“For some reason this year, the medical stuff is out of control,” he said.
Meehan said those eventualities illustrate the need for proactive staffing measures.
“It goes to shows why we set the bar high to begin, because we realize we’re going to face those issues,” he said.
Councilman Dennis Dare said regardless of staffing levels, delivering timely service is the mission.
“It’s the headways … that are important,” he said. “If you have 10-minute headways as the goal, and you do it with two people or one person, what’s the difference?”
Rickards said bus arrivals have been maintained at 10 minutes or less for the bulk of days to this point in the summer, with a few exceptions on Sundays.
“The next step is auto passenger counters, so people know how many people are on board,” he said.
Grant funding is currently being sought to finance the equipment upgrade for the city’s TransLoc Rider app, Rickards said.
“It will allow customers to know how many people are on the bus and when the next one is coming,” he said. “The headways are great but if the bus is full and it’s going by when is the next one.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca expressed dismay with the bus statistics this June and the past few seasons.
“I think ridership and revenue year after year is extremely disappointing,” he said.
DeLuca noted room and food taxes are up so far this summer.
“It just seems obvious to me that when you have [staff], we were up [and] when you didn’t … you’re down,” he said.
DeLuca noted the roughly 2,000 more riders this July 4 over 2018 was likely attributable to increased deployments, which jumped from 55 in 2018 to 73 this year.
“That’s 18 more than last year [and ridership] was up unbelievably,” he said.