The 'Empty Bus' Myth
My personal experience? There are plenty of people riding Cap Metro
By Lee Nichols,
10:06AM, Fri. Mar. 23, 2007
We had a letter in this week's issue from one Stephanie Webb, and although it was not the main thrust of the letter, one line caught my eye: "I applaud Capital Metro for continuing to function despite lack of ridership," she wrote.
So I thought it is high time to address a phrase that I often hear critics of Capital Metro employ: "empty buses." It is a phrase that is based, I believe, on purely anecdotal observation and is misleading if not flat-out inaccurate. I'd love to lay this erroneous notion of empty Capital Metro buses to rest once and for all (although I doubt John Kelso will let that happen since it continues to provide him with easy jokes).
Now, having criticized Cap Metro naysayers for using anecdotal evidence, I'm about to be a hypocrite and do it myself. Or I could just change my terminology and call it "personal experience." I have a lot of that on Capital Metro buses. Although I have my own complaints about the transit agency – for example, I think they are way too slow to respond to obviously needed changes in routes and scheduling – I like Cap Metro, especially if I'm heading Downtown.
And, from what I can tell on my own rides, so do a lot of other people. Far from being empty, I typically ride in buses that are, at worst, 30% full and often well more than half full and sometimes at capacity. So where does the empty bus myth come from? Two areas: People see buses in midday – when most people are at work and the roads in general are pretty empty – and so quite naturally, the buses are, too. And then those people grumble about their tax money being wasted. Guess what? It's not: Bus service is appropriately reduced during those hours. Check out those same buses during rush hour. Try to get on one (please, so that your car will stop polluting the air), and try to find a seat at that time. Good luck. I've sometimes been forced to stand and hold the overhead rail.
The other area: People on the fringes of Cap Metro's service area (read: suburbanites) see near-empty buses. Again, there is a logical explanation: By the time the buses reach the hinterlands, they are at the end of their route, and most riders have already reached their destination and gotten off. Get on that same route Downtown (again – please), and see just how "empty" it is at the beginning.
More suggestions for observing "empty" buses: Take Cap Metro down to Sixth Street or the Warehouse District to party, and then head home after the bars close on one of the "Night Owl" buses. I love this service – for just 50 cents, they'll drive your drunk butt home as long as you don't puke. Again: Good luck finding a seat.
I got my dander up about this myth last summer when I decided to take the bus to Deep Eddy Pool. The bus was about 40% full. Not that impressive a number? I disagree: This was about 2pm on a Sunday – not exactly a high-traffic time of the week, yet nearly every other seat was taken. Seriously, does this constitute a "lack of ridership"?
Now, I'm sure the comments will fly about this reason or that reason that Cap Metro sucks. Go right ahead – but please, let's limit them to real problems the agency might have, not fictional "empty buses."