If anyone wants to know how Santa Rosa Transit is doing, do what Shawn Ward does, and drop four quarters on a ride.

Ward took over Nancy Model’s position back in June as the county transportation planner.

Since the county bus service changed its routes a few months ago, ridership has gone down according to data from the transportation department.

In May of this year, the transportation department decided to cut out routes that were not seeing as many riders and making the trip to and from Pensacola shorter.

That change cut back ridership.

“We implemented that in May,” Ward said. “In April we had 810 trips (passengers) and in May we had 663 trips.”

Ward also rides the bus, just like everyone else, but not for the same reason.

“We do quarterly reports and I ride around and do the whole ride in the morning and the evening,” Ward said.

During this time he collects ridership numbers and talks with passengers about their reason for riding.

The Santa Rosa Transit has routes mainly along U.S. Hwy. 90, from the East Milton Industrial Park to a connection to the Escambia County Area Transit system at Nine Mile Road and University Parkway.

The program originally started in December 2010 to help get people to work along the busy Highway 90 corridor.

And according to testimonials from riders, Ward said people are still using the bus program for what it was intended for.

“A lot of the people I talked to are using the bus service to get to work,” Ward said.

On Oct. 22, Ward will come face to face with the county, who in the past has criticized the bus service for low ridership numbers.

Ward is hoping to convince the county to extend the contract for the bus service another two years.

“I still think that’s going to be an issue,” said Ward about the ridership numbers. “Come the vote on the 25th (October), it’s going to be a
concern.”

The county pays for 18% of the total cost of the bus service, which will equate to a $48,000 cost over the next two years.

“Basically what happens is 35 percent of the program is paid by a federal grant, 18 percent by the county and five percent from fares and
ticket sales,” Ward said. “We did make changes as requested by the board.

“Until those numbers get back up…there is still a concern.”

But despite the changes made in May, ridership is still up for the year.

According to data compiled by the county transportation department, from January 2012 to September 2012, the program saw 6,464 riders
total.

Last year from January to September, ridership only reached 4,222.

Ward contributed most of the low ridership numbers over the recent summer to rainfall.

“We had the wettest summer on record,” Ward said. “And there was also no school, so those are some of the contributing factors.”

Ridership peaked in April 2012, where the transit service saw 810 riders. But once the service changed its routes starting on May 1, it dropped
ridership down by almost 150 riders.

Back in January, the county voted to revise the bus schedule and to implement a new express route. The change took away routes that were not utilized frequently enough. The change in turn cut down ride time and saved on fuel costs.

“As of Sept. 2012, we had 670 trips (riders), it’s been hovering right around the 650-670 mark,” Ward said. “We had 699 trips in August with two days without service because of Hurricane Isaac.”

Ward said that he received an update from Pensacola Bay Transportation general manager, Howard Vanselowwe that so far the month in
October, ridership is up for the month. Ward said that as of Monday, the transit program had 255 riders for the month.

“That is an average of 21.25 riders per driver,” Ward said. “Looks like we are on target for 800 riders or more for October.”

The Santa Rosa Transit program is a cooperative effort through the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization with the county being the sub-recipient. Pensacola Bay Transportation operates the buses for the county.

How the numbers add up
Ridership    2011    2012
January       281      782
February     296      788
March         412      771
April            431      810
May            510      663
June           586     639
July            454      644
August       632      699
September 620     670
October     616
November 646
December 708