Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lynx Ridership Has Dropped Over 10% in Less than 4 Years


Annual Lynx ridership has decreased by nearly 3 million annual passengers since 2013/2014, a Lynxed Together analysis has discovered. This decrease represents a drop of over 10%.

Lynxed Together reviewed monthly and annual "Regular Fixed Route" ridership data provided by Lynx for Fiscal years 2013 through 2016, plus data for October through January of Fiscal 2017 and found that Lynx ridership peaked in Fiscal 2013 at 27.83 million riders. In the fiscal year that ended September 30, 2016, Lynx carried just 24.84 million passengers.

Lynx "Regular Fixed Routes" represent regular bus services that run along a defined route on a fixed schedule and exclude Downtown Orlando Lymmo, NeighborLink, Access Lynx and Van Pool services, Link 208 and special shuttles.


Month over month, ridership has dropped 26 out of the last 28 months, with decreases as high as 12.6% (Jan 15 vs Jan 16). Lynx experienced its' peak ridership month in October 2013, with over 2.56 million riders. In October 2016, ridership barely surpassed 2.02 million, a whopping decrease of 21.3%. January 2017, the most recent month for which data is available, showed a rare 1.1% increase over 2016. but the 2.02 million passengers represented a 15.2% decrease from peak January passengers in 2013.

Factors that can help explain this decrease in ridership include:

  • Launch of SunRail service
  • Lower gas prices
  • Ridesharing (Uber, et al)

Let's examine each of these factors.


SunRail


Some longer-distance commuters certainly switched from Lynx to the train when it debuted in May 2014. Indeed, Lynx noted that several commuter-focused links (routes) were eliminated when SunRail service started.
 
However, with the launch of SunRail, 19 links were realigned to provide connecting service to SunRail stations. Ultimately, most SunRail commuters need a way to get the "last mile" to their destination, so the majority of any decrease in longer-distance commuters should have been offset by increases in "last mile" passengers.

Though, ultimately, any decrease in Lynx passengers attributable to SunRail is a wash, and perhaps even a net gain when viewed from a regional/big picture perspective, as these commuters are still utilizing public transit, simply a more efficient mode.

Lower Gas Prices


Lynx attributes the drop in ridership almost exclusively to lower gas prices. It's cited at every board meeting, and they've even started including a graphic in the monthly ridership report that shows year-over-year ridership data vs the year-over-year gas price.

While gas price fluctuations may sway a small number of "choice" riders toward or away from public transit, especially for longer (read: more expensive) commutes, it's not realistic to think that several thousand commuters on a typical weekday who have cars in their driveway (with the corresponding fixed costs of car payments, insurance and maintenance) are leaving them parked and walking to the bus stop simply because gas (a relatively small part of the cost of the car ownership equation) is at $3.

Ridesharing


Uber is a smartphone app that allows you to hire a private driver, on demand, to take you from door to door. An Uber ride costs roughly 1/3 the price of a taxi, is completely cashless, and allows you to track your car and driver and their location so you know exactly when your ride is coming and who is behind the wheel. In short, it's a very convenient, quick and cost-effective way to get from point A to point B. Uber debuted in Orlando in early June 2014.

Lynx, on the other hand, while very cost effective, is rarely a quick or convenient transportation option. Indirect routings, infrequent service, and limited operating hours can make a bus ride both time consuming and cumbersome.

Given the confluence of Uber's arrival in Orlando and the beginning of the decline of Lynx ridership, we argue that Uber has created a new segment of "choice" transit riders: Individuals who don't own a car and can't (or won't) spend money on a taxi, but see value in a quick, cost-effective door-to-door ride for at least some of their trips. These individuals likely still use Lynx for some (and maybe even most of) their trips, but when the weather is poor, they're in a hurry, or for any number of other reasons, they're willing to pay for a door-to-door ride.

Say, for example, that you work the front desk of a hotel on International Drive, near the Orange County Convention Center. You live near W. Colonial Drive and John Young Parkway. When you get off work at 8 pm, you could catch Link 8. But unfortunately, you've just missed the 7:56 departure, so you've got to stand at the bus stop until the 8:25 pm bus. Then, you've got a slow, winding ride that takes you up International Drive to Oak Ridge Road, over to Rio Grande and through Americana, onto the traffic-choked Orange Blossom Trail and around Paramore, finally arriving at Lynx Central Station at 9:20 pm. It's been an hour and 20 minutes since you got off work, and you're still not home. You just missed Link 49, which departed at 9:15, so you've got another wait, this time for Link 48. You depart Lynx Central Station at 9:45 and at 9:57, almost two hours after you clocked out, you finally get off the bus to walk the last few blocks home.

Or, you could pick up your smartphone, open the Uber app and request a ride. An Uber will probably arrive in less than 5 minutes and take you directly home (likely 15 minutes or less). You're home in 20 minutes (that's before that 8:25 bus even arrived) and it cost you about $12.

Which would you pick?

While all three of these factors (and perhaps other influences that we haven't considered) are impacting Lynx ridership to some extent, we believe that this new segment of choice riders created by the ridesharing economy are the biggest factor.

Earlier this month, we sat down with Lynx CEO Edward Johnson for an exclusive interview. We asked him about the ridership trends.



"A lot of that is following the national trend," Johnson said. "When you look around the country, you see many transit agencies' ridership decreasing and that's tied into the ... lowering of gas prices. ... That's one of those things that we in the transit world experience."

When asked if the rise of ridesharing was a factor, Johnson said "There very well might be some decline in ridership due to Uber, we just don't have the analysis that gives us a very good picture of that.

"Even with Uber ... it still ties back into the overall transportation program. We don't necessarily look at them as being competitors."

Asked whether cutbacks were possible due to the downward ridership trend, Johnson indicated that it may result in resources being reallocated. "If we see a decline in ridership in a particular area, maybe the service volume may get decreased so we can allocate those financial resources and put them in areas" with a bigger need.

"What we want to do is have one transportation system for our community. They don't care if it's Uber, Lyft, SunRail, what have you," Johnson said. "What they care about is can they get from point A to point B."

Watch CEO Edward Johnson talk about Lynx ridership:

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