Local leaders say the countywide rural transit system’s ridership has increased above expectations in the last year, and they still expect numbers to rise in untapped markets.
Ridership increased 44 percent in February compared to February 2016, Waco Transit general manager John Hendrickson said. Riders paid $4,044 in fares collected in vehicles and ticket sales last month, compared to $2,576 in February 2016, Hendrickson said.
Ride fares are $3 per one-way, in-county trip and $5 for one-way trips crossing county lines.
The countywide transit district launched July 1, 2015, after replacing the former program run by the Heart of Texas Council of Governments.
During the past three years, ridership has continued to grow, Hendrickson said. Ridership numbers for parolees using the transit system to shuttle between the Waco Transit office and the Waco District Parole Office have stagnated, likely due to reaching all those in need of the service, he said.
The service was a new addition to the area, adding a fixed route for those who needed the service.
“It’s exceeded my expectations to some extent and I think it’ll keep going as we work on how to communicate and tell the community how they can access it,” County Judge Scott Felton said. “There’s just lots of need out there that’s still untapped. Education is part of it. We just got into that real serious education. We keep pamphlets in the courthouse and the probation side; they hand out the pamphlets, too. I know (County Court-At-Law Judge Mike Freeman), before he left, said that’s really been helpful.”
The new rural transit program also brought the opportunity for rides on Saturdays, a feature not available prior to 2015. In February 2016 there were 47 rides given on Saturdays and last month, there were 70, or a 48 percent increase, Hendrickson said.
The service is available from 5:15 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7:15 a.m. to 8:15 p.m. Saturday. The service is not available on Sundays.
Hendrickson said the numbers for Saturday rides are still not as high as he’d like to see them, but as word continues to spread about the program, ridership will increase.
Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver said already ridership is higher than most of them thought it could be.
“I think there’s still a learning curve for the public and our marketing efforts are starting to work,” he said.
As residents in McGregor continue to be the highest percentage of riders from any specific city, Waco Transit leaders are meeting with city leaders about funding options for a fixed route and bus stops. Hendrickson said organizers have also met with the C3 call center in McGregor, which is looking at ways to contribute, he said.
Residents can arrange a trip by calling the Waco Transit System at least 24 hours in advance and trips can be scheduled up to two weeks ahead of time.