Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Let's Debate: How can Omnitrans build up sbX Ridership?

Photo: Omnitrans
By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com

To our readers and commentors: We've heard you! We've heard your suggestions. This blog is in for some good changes! The Transit Coalition has seen a growing interest with our Inland Empire Transit Talking Points blog. Our analysis of transit-related matters may at first appear as if they are being preached to the choir. In fact, our very messages have been read by some of the very top officials and elected representatives who are the very decision makers of your transit system. I want to ensure that our future posts and analysis are as accurate and fact-based as possible. Before I dive into the topic of the sbX initial ridership numbers, here are some of the changes in store for the blog:

Weekly Let's Debate and Talking Points:

Every Wednesday, starting today, I as The Transit Coalition Community Engagement Director overseeing transit matters in the Inland Empire will put up a Let's Debate post which will cover a topic I and the Coalition believe is important to you. The post will be a first look at transit news data extracted from reports, rider stories, and field studies. I'll compile any relevant commentary and findings into the post. Afterwards, I'll invite you to add your input while I'll engage directly with the parties involved in the story through Friday of the week. The following Monday, I'll put up a Talking Points post covering all of the facts received and with a straight-talk analysis. Those of course will serve as the support arms toward future Coalition campaigns and hopefully will spark some strong robust debate in the court of public opinion on such topics.

Friday Transportation Tips:

Every Friday, I'll put a Transportation Tips post, inviting you to do your part into improving our transit systems and Inland Empire quality of life. While we ask the government to improve our transit options, there are many other ways for all of us to do our parts. Should I receive a relevant story to post, it will go up along side the Let's Debate, Transportation Tips, and Talking Points. Again, I invite you to take an active role and contribute your stories to us.

Don't forget that you commenters are also a strong support arm for this blog. Keep up the productive debate and suggestions!

Photo: Omnitrans
Let's Debate: The Initial sbX Ridership Numbers

This week's Let's Debate will focus on Omnitrans' initial sbX E Street Bus Rapid Transit ridership numbers. Press Enterprise blogger and Columnist Cassie Macduff took a ride on the sbX Green Line and posted the experience. After the first week of free rides, the sbX assumed its normal fare policy. The Coalition already knows that sbX fares are identical to the local bus fare which means existing Route 2 riders can opt to ride the sbX with their existing passes.

When the sbX launched, we predicted it would be an initial success given the simple fact that the overlapping local Route 2 is one of the busiest local Omnitrans lines in the system and that a significant pool of riders would switch to sbX for a faster ride up and down E Street for longer trips. Initial observations per the report however are suggesting otherwise. Omnitrans Director of Marketing Wendy Williams told the PE reporter that ridership was only 1,280 for the second week. I'll confirm that figure later this week.

According to Macduff's field report, several Route 2 riders were still riding the local bus since many were reported to be waiting at the local stops, not at the sbX stations; thus the sbX appears to be underperforming. In addition, motorists have been reported of encroaching into the bus lanes. An illegal left turn led to a bus collision on opening day. LA Metro's Orange Line had similar right-of-way troubles during its opening months of operations with drivers running red lights and causing collisions. Unlike the sbX, the Orange Line had overwhelming ridership figures.

I'll follow up to see what specific marketing plans Omnitrans has planned to better educate the Route 2 ridership base. Direct marketing targeted to Route 2 riders could very well be a key to solving this issue. Because of the low initial numbers, anti-sbX individuals think they have a case of government waste. As of late last night, 8 very anti-sbX remarks were left in the PE article including one about an upcoming conference. Another negative commenter also bore the name of a Yermo homeowner's association. As of early this morning, there was one strong positive reply to all of the madness left in the PE article.

I'll see what's going on with all of that. Dissenters must not forget that the Metrolink San Bernardino Line will eventually connect to the sbX which should flood the bus route with additional choice-riders headed to/from the bookend hubs in Loma Linda and CSU San Bernardino.

Let me know in the comments what you think of all this, what ideas you have for Omnitrans to improve the ridership base and we'll tell you what we found out from the parties on Monday. Again as gentle reminder, please refrain from posting any worthless personal attacks against the sbX dissenters. Let's keep the debate productive and robust.

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    1. Omnitrans has provided me a fact sheet of what is being done for safety outreach. I'll have it featured in Monday's Talking Points post. Law enforcement is responsible for the ticketing.
      -Nicholas Ventrone

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