Ridership has grown for many reasons.
Our buses connect with some great destinations or connect with other vital transit points. There are people who hop on the bus in Trumbull, head to downtown Bridgeport and connect with Metro-North to New York City. There are people who use the bus for getting around to shopping, schools, work and health care facilities. There are people who travel from region to region on routes like Coastal Link and Route 15 to Derby station.
Another reason for growth is that there has been an increase in employment and population. Research indicates that investment in public transit leads to four fold increase on the local economy. Since 2009, there has been a 2.8% increase in entry level employment and 1.4% and 1.6% growth in mid-term and long-term jobs, respectively, according to the Blue Green Research Institute.
As the largest city in the state of Connecticut, Bridgeport has also seen a 4.4% increase in population from 2000 to 2010 and that number is projected to rise at about 1% per year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Most of the other towns in our region have also seen increases in population.
We expect that ridership will continue to rise over the next decade and beyond.
So, what does this mean?
To riders, that means more people on the buses. To drivers, it means more stops and more interactions with people getting on and off the bus. To our maintenance staff, it means stepping up our bus cleaning and engine maintenance programs. But behind all that, as an organization we are continually working to plan for the future so that we can meet the rising demand for transit services.
What's in the works.
To meet increasing ridership, GBT is working on a number of fronts to improve service and to improve our bus fleet. Just this summer, we replaced 15 old buses with new, more energy efficient Gillig diesel buses. New buses mean less time off the road for maintenance, better fuel efficiency and less emissions. Some of the new bus features help us improve service efficiency. For example, low floors with a quick flip ramp allow for easier and faster boardings on the new buses for all riders.
Almost everyone who rides has seen the new bus station downtown, but most people haven't seen our maintenance facility where our buses are housed and maintained each night. Over the past several years, we have been working on a plan to improve this facility which is currently running at full capacity. Without changes to this facility, there is little space to expand our fleet. We are in the process of preparing the resources and funding so that we can make the changes necessary to meet future ridership growth in the region.
In 2016, we will be replacing 40 older buses. Right now we are reviewing and analyzing different types of buses for features that will help us maximize passenger capacity and decrease costs. On our Facebook page and at our public Open Houses, many of our riders have been vocal about what kinds of buses they want in the future.
With that in mind, we are considering buses that have larger capacities including articulated buses. When analyzing the use of new buses there are many features which must be considered that are unique to our region. For example, low bridges mean some hybrid buses can't run on all of our routes because they'd be too tall. Of course, we look at other features too like passenger capacity, fuel efficiency, and features that make it easy for riders with disabilities. We also consider other "hidden" challenges such as maintenance needs: will the bus fit in our maintenance bays? Or, will our current tools work on the new buses or will we need new equipment?
These are just a small few of the ways in which we are planning to help meet the rising need for public transit service. We are always listening and engaging with people in our region to find ways to connect bus service with jobs, with other transit points and with areas that aren't being served by public transit. Behind the scenes we are thinking about and planning with the big picture in mind so that riders can get up each day and get to where they are going.