Each year public transportation agencies are challenged with the daunting task of finding ways to make their bus ridership grow; even during a period of economic decline, increased unemployment, high gas prices and funding constraints. Many agencies are using ad campaigns to increase public awareness through Web pages, print ads, radio commercials and TV commercials to try to lure in new riders.
Reliable planning and scheduling, which makes public transportation attractive for passengers and economical for transportation companies, raises many questions. How many passengers get on at stop xy? What routes are most frequented? To find the answers to these questions, a transportation company must count, transmit and evaluate data. In addition, there might be government reporting and other requirements that make passenger counting crucial.
The use of APC equipment for the provision and evaluation of data information regarding actual passenger demand and frequency is of significant importance in conjunction with transit service planning, optimization and applications for funds to improve or maintain operating public transit. It is imperative for a transportation agency to select a system for automated passenger counting and analysis which will allow for the accurate collection of data regarding boardings and alightings at stops, passenger loads of vehicles between stops, vehicle running times and dwell times, and subsequent evaluation of stop, trip and route load analysis.
But how do they determine if they are succeeding? What does ridership data tell us?
There are many reasons that transit agencies collect ridership data, and many uses for the data collected. General ridership information is often utilized by senior management and finance departments while various detailed information such as trip or route level ridership, time of day, and/or stop level data is of importance to service planning and scheduling departments. In addition, location and time-related data is also collected in conjunction with ridership data and used to monitor schedule adherence and an analysis of origin-destination patterns can also be produced.
COUNTING PASSENGERS WHILE TRYING NOT TO RECREATE THE WHEEL
The traditional way to determine ridership has been to conduct manual ridership audits using people as ride checkers. These ride checkers would spend days riding and recording data such as the current date, time and the passenger counts per stop onboard the vehicle on a select number of vehicles and routes. After the data was compiled, this information was manually entered into a computer program or spreadsheets to mathematically calculate or estimate the overall ridership of the transit system. This information was then used to populate the required forms for the FTA so that the transit agency could apply for funding.
Even though this method has been an acceptable means for agencies to verify their ridership, the time required to collect the data, the quality of the data collected and the ever-increasing expense of using ride checkers has opened the door for agencies to explore alternatives.
Fortunately in today's advanced technological transit environment it is easy to obtain highly accurate ridership data without the need to overspend.
THE EVOLUTION OF ADVANCED COUNTING TECHNOLOGY
Since the late 1990s Automatic Passenger Counting systems have become a vital component of the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). Reliable APC data supports scheduling and planning departments to improve the on-time performance of their system and provide accurate data to the agency for numerous evaluation purposes.
The advent of the APC systems that will automatically collect ridership data will eliminate the need for time-consuming data collection by ride checkers and the evaluation of the manual counting sheets; as well as the expense associated with all of these time-consuming and costly activities. Thus, allowing for the better utilization of personnel assets.