AL: Huntsville Transit ridership returning to pre-pandemic levels

Feb. 9, 2024
Last year’s ridership on fixed bus routes was at 94% of pre-COVID ridership and at 97% on paratransit routes.

Huntsville residents are once again riding transit buses to get around town.

Huntsville Transit ridership dropped off during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. But city transit officials said in a news release Wednesday that 2023 saw a steady increase in passengers.

Last year’s ridership on fixed bus routes was at 94% of pre-COVID ridership and at 97% on paratransit routes.

Orbit fixed-route buses carried 630,569 riders in 2023, the highest total since 671,459 riders in the last full year before the pandemic in 2019. Passenger traffic increased more than 29% in 2023 over the lowest traffic year of 2021. Year over year from 2022, ridership increased 13%.

For Access paratransit, the 100,832 riders in 2023 were the most since 104,952 in 2019. Passenger traffic increased 38% since the first year of the pandemic in 2020. And year over year from 2022, ridership increased 20%.

“We realize the critical role Huntsville Transit has in the lives of our residents, and we are excited to see our ridership numbers continue to increase,” said Quisha Bryant, director of Huntsville’s Department of Parking and Public Transit. “Moving forward, we want to maintain our ridership growth and we have initiated steps to maximize our efficiency.”

Increasing the numbers is important to the city as it seeks to expand its transit system. According to a report last year to the Huntsville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Huntsville Transit needs to have about 3,000 riders a week along the U.S. 72 corridor to be eligible for as much as $150 million in Federal Transportation Authority funding through its Small Starts program. Huntsville Transit was averaging 1,300 riders a week along the corridor in 2019.

The report was recommending Huntsville add a rapid transit bus system with extended service in MidCity, to Huntsville International Airport and to Madison.

That’s long-range planning. In the short-term Huntsville Transit is making changes in other ways.

Construction nears completion on a new transit transfer station on Pratt Avenue.

The facility will offer significant safety upgrades but also focus on riders’ comfort and convenience, according to city officials. It will feature a security fence around the perimeter and an upgraded video surveillance system.

The building is expected to include a waiting area for riders with comfortable seating and ports to charge mobile devices. The interior will also have a separate break area for employees and a ticket office.

Outside, the new station will feature a 400-foot-long bus platform and an office for the platform manager. The 45-foot bus bays will accommodate larger buses and be covered to protect riders from inclement weather. Electronic signs will provide real-time information on arrivals and departures.

Public Transit has also worked to be more responsive to its riders. The department has held multiple public meetings to help develop more efficient routes and those conversations and adjustments are still ongoing.

In the past few months, transit has rolled out changes in routes. Huntsville Transit is looking at other changes as the result of study done by Nelson Nygaard for the city. The changes could include adding Sunday service, extending service hours and adding additional routes.

Visit the Public Transportation page to learn more about Huntsville Transit’s services.

Scott Turner reports from Huntsville for the Lede.

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