Anecdotally, tourists are probably pretty easy to spot.
They’re the folks with oversized cameras around their necks. They’re the folks carrying overstuffed, matched luggage. They’re the folks who are probably dressed just a shade improperly for the local weather.
And they’re the folks who are probably checking the stops and schedules obsessively and asking the most questions about where they’re heading.
Scientifically, tourists are a bit more difficult to peg down. None of the mass transit agencies reached for this article had hard numbers on the population or percentage of riders who were on their trains and buses merely for pleasure, instead of using them as a way to get to and from work.
VIA Metropolitan Transit serves San Antonio with roughly 450 buses, including 19 streetcars, however, they don’t track rider types.
“VIA does not track ridership based on type of rider, and previous rider surveys have not asked this question,” says Priscilla Ingle, vice president of public affairs. “However, since San Antonio has a large tourism market, we realize that many of our riders are most likely tourists.”
“I don’t know that we have hard data that tells us what share of our riders are tourists,” says Robert Smith, assistant vice president of service, planning and scheduling for DART in Dallas. “It’s not a large part of our ridership. We do have certain special event periods, the State Fair of Texas probably being the largest, where we have much larger volumes of tourist riders.
“We are in the middle right now of doing a comprehensive study of riders and trip purposes, but we won’t have those results until later in the year,” Smith says. “That may give us a better idea of how [tourists] fit into our daily ridership.”
Even if the numbers aren’t exact, mass transit systems see the tourism market as an important one, one that in many cities represents a thriving, important industry.
“Austin’s tourism continues to grow due to special events and its increasing popularity in the entertainment and real estate industry,” says Misty Whited, public relations specialist with Capital Metro. “Capital Metro sees the influx of people as an opportunity to provide more transit service for a wide variety of visitors.”
Making Financial Sense
The Miami-Dade County Transit system just launched what it calls a 7-day Visitor Passport. The $19 unlimited weekly pass will be sold through city visitor centers.
The weekly pass isn’t much more expensive than the monthly pass per day of use, and it comes with information to woo tourists and other casual riders onto the bus or rail system, Bechdel says.
A special map and brochure comes with the Visitor Passport, which shows the location of about 60 attractions in the Miami Beach, South Beach and downtown areas.
At the $19 price point — locations selling the pass get to keep $3 and $16 goes back to the transit system, public transportation makes financial sense for visitors, Bechdel says.
“To valet a car overnight at a Miami Beach hotel, the average cost is $22 per night,” he says.
On top of that, a visitor who takes their car out to dinner or to other entertainment can expect to spend an additional $15 or more in parking fees, Bechdel says.
While the pass makes financial sense for visitors, it also makes money for those selling it. Nonprofit sellers like the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce welcome center, the Miami Beach Latin Chamber of Commerce welcome center and the Art Deco welcome center will have a potentially risk-free chance for revenue by selling the passes, Bechdel says.
Miami-Dade County Transit wants to capture about 3 percent of the 10 million visitors with the pass, or 300,000 passes sold annually. But, there’s another market that might purchase the pass. Bechdel says workers that live paycheck to paycheck have shown interest in the weekly pass. It only costs $1 more per month than the monthly pass, and it doesn’t create as large of a one-time financial strain during the month.