Bus ridership has been steadily increasing in 2022, said the city’s transit agency this week, with April’s numbers one-fifth higher than last year.
VIA Metropolitan Transit credits the rise to higher fuel prices and lower COVID-19 concerns. And indeed, case counts dropped dramatically after the 2021-2022 winter surge, with the city’s public health department reporting very low numbers in April.
VIA’s average weekday bus ridership dashboard shows ridership rose to 67,000 that month, from about 55,500 in April 2021.
The conditions the agency credits with increasing ridership do appear to be changing, however. COVID-19 case counts are rising once again — the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District recently categorized the region’s risk level as high and worsening, while hospitalizations are creeping back up.
Gas prices, too, have begun to decline, dropping every day for the past month, according to the AAA auto club. In San Antonio, the average price is now $4.026, down from $4.676 a month ago.
Matthew Williams, who lives near downtown and takes the #25 bus route to his job at Ripley’s Believe it or Not, across from the Alamo, said his morning commute is definitely more crowded.
Williams said he personally has not heard of people riding the bus due to an increase in fuel prices, but the VIA bus driver on route #25 Thursday said passengers mention fuel prices “all the time.”
A VIA spokeswoman said that historically, VIA’s ridership increases when fuel prices go up. While gas prices have been dropping, a single fare of $1.30 is still far less than the cost of a gallon of gas, the agency noted in its release. Buying a day, weekly or monthly pass brings down the cost to riders down even further. A 30-day pass is $38.
While many transit agencies saw steep declines in early 2020 due to pandemic restrictions and safety concerns, VIA reported that it maintained more than 50% of its ridership at the height of the pandemic. The agency credits increased safety protocols — along with being an essential service.
Williams, who has been a regular bus commuter for the past five years, said that even during the peak of COVID-19, when busses had a passenger capacity, drivers would often have to pass by bus stops and signal to people waiting that the bus was full.
Since VIA dropped its mask requirement, “everyone just forgot it existed,” he said. The pandemic has dragged on so long … time can kind of get rid of a lot.”
According to VIA, a handful of routes in particular have seen big boosts in ridership. VIA reported the biggest jump for route #93, which runs between the University of Texas San Antonio and Centro Plaza, located on the west side of downtown. Ridership was up 198% from April 2021 to April 2022.
Ridership increased 83% year over year on route #103, known as Primo Zarzamora, which runs between the Medical Center to Crossroads Blvd., 57% for route #4, the San Pedro bus route, 36% for the Loop 410/ WW White Skip bus route #552, which runs between Brooks Transit Center to Kel-Lac Transit Center and 22% for route #20, which runs between the Brooks Transit Center to Centro Plaza.
“Over the past two years, we have endured extraordinary circumstances as a community but have maintained our focus on keeping San Antonio moving forward, safely,” said Jeffrey C. Arndt, VIA CEO. “Today, more than ever, affordable, reliable public transit is essential, and we are seeing more people use VIA to stay connected to work, school, doctors, groceries and each other.