Port Authority ridership in July 2008 was up compared to July 2007, significant because July is the first full month available to do an apples-to-apples comparison of the system after it was trimmed by 15% on June 17, 2007.  Average weekday bus ridership (the best metric, IMHO, because it automatically adjusts for the different number of days in a month) was up 4.75% compared to July 2007. 

But that understates the ridership trend.

Even with the 2007 system reduction, July 2008 was the Port Authority’s best July since 2002, whether measured by average weekday bus ridership (198,550, or 3.5% higher than July 2003) or total system ridership (5,857,584, or 2.3% higher than July 2003). And in 2003, the bus system was roughly 22% larger (measured by hours of service), according to my rough calculations.  (UPDATE: The 2003 bus system was actually 24.2% larger, which means these July numbers are even more impressive.)

That underscores the importance and value of transit, especially in today’s environment.

Now, there are those who would argue that if we had a bigger system, we could move even more people. True, but how much would it cost? The Port Authority cut 15% of the routes last year because it could not afford to maintain a system that large, and saw only a 3.7% decline in ridership (even with a fare hike.)  But now we have a foundation of a system that we can sustain into the future.

All things being equal, everybody would prefer a bigger transit system over a smaller one. But all things are not equal — bigger systems cost more money and there is a limit to what the region can afford. The ongoing reform effort to create a sustainable Port Authority transit system has already forced riders (and potential riders) to deal with route cuts and fare hikes.  And they will face even more if the Port Authority union does not agree to a reasonable new contract on par with what other private-sector and public-sector unions enjoy.

Posted by: Ken Zapinski

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