He mentions during the fuel crisis in the late '70s and then again in the mid-80s, he didn't see the behavior change like he did when gas hit $4 a gallon. "That's when we really saw ridership growth. Thirty percent in the summer, which is just unheard of when our St. Cloud State is on break."
Cruikshank says, "We had drivers coming in telling us passengers were complaining they had to stand. These are regular riders that ride during the day.
"At 11 o'clock in the morning or 1 o'clock in the afternoon, we had to pass some folks," Tripp states. "We were full to yellow line at 1 o'clock in the afternoon. It's a glorious problem to have."
Cruikshank says, "I'm sure you're hearing that across the country, but for us it becomes a run-time issue. Routes are running behind because you're making more passenger stops and at each of those stops you have more people boarding. It's taking longer for those drivers to make those routes."
With ridership settling down with the lower gas prices, things are running easier, but Cruikshank mentions they?re actually compounding the problem themselves. ?We?re trying to transition more of our dial-a-ride users on to fixed routes,? he says. ?Many of those users are nonambulatory, they use mobility aides and need to use some of the lifts or ramps to get on and off the bus, which means more dwell time at the curb.?
The timing is right for change, however, as Metro Bus is performing a total analysis of the system. ?Aecom, we hired them this last spring, they?re going to help us do a system performance analysis,? says Cruikshank. ?Since we?ve had some experience dealing with that high ridership, we know that there are some areas that we?re really going to have to address.?
Our conversation leads me to ask how Metro Bus is funded. Without hesitation Tripp replies, ?Well, bake sales ...? As he and Cruikshank laugh, Cruikshank adds, ?We had a silent auction benefit on Friday.?
Tripp explains, ?The state of Minnesota is a major, major partner, more than 50 percent.? He adds, ?And then we do have our, because we are an authority created by the
Minnesota legislature in ?69, we have our own direct taxing authority. We have that ability.
?We could tax a lot higher, but things have so far balanced themselves so we didn?t have to raise taxes.? He says, ?Our tax rate is at like 1.15 percent, which is pretty small.? He also mentions that central Minnesota is conservative. ?The majority of our mayors of the four cities are conservative so as long as we?re able to squeak this and that, really, that?s the only reason we have full-wrapped buses.? And that?s a market which is also getting tougher.
The capital program is completely dependent on earmarking or discretionary funding for the big ticket items. He says, ?That?s not a very comfortable position to be in.? But adds, ?We still get by. We?re pretty creative.?
Creativity is apparent with the solutions they find to help them operate more efficiently. ?We?re small enough of an agency and yet autonomous enough of an agency where if we see that there?s a good idea, we just go for it,? Tripp says. ?There are no multi-levels of bureaucracy, internal bureaucracy. It?s just like if some folks think it?s a good idea, they come to me.
?Everyone?s got their niche,? he adds. ?They?re just excited to come to work and do it. ?We?re always doing things that are cutting-edge and over-the-edge. And not all of that is completely original,? Tripp says.
One example is its U-Go-Free, a summer youth pass. ?For three months it?s free, you just have to have a parent come down and sign up the student and ridership is completely free for under 18.?
He mentions that idea came from Martin Sennett, general manager with the Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corp. (CityBus). ?There was an article in one of our industry magazines and Marty said, ?You know, we weren?t getting that many student passengers anyway, so the revenue resulting from it wasn?t that significant.?
?If you get a single mom with three kids, financially, there?s this ? here?s the social part of me coming out again ? it?s a burden,? Tripp says. ?She?s not taking the kids with her or she?s not riding as often as she should. You know, so what?s the loss?? He adds, ?Just give it away free. And we did that.? He stresses that these kinds of things have also helped in raising the relationship within the community.