More riders paid a fare on the Durango Transit trolley this March than any previous March, an increase city officials attributed to more young riders, a boost in tourism and a change from two trips an hour to three.
Trolley riders took 15,270 trips in March, an increase of 2,085 trips compared with March 2018, according to city data. The record surpasses the number of trips taken each March since 2015, when the city started charging fares, said Sarah Dodson, assistant director of transportation.
From 2015 to 2018, the trolley averaged about 13,000 trips in March, Dodson said. Before Durango started charging people to ride, the trolley averaged about 20,000 unique trips each March. A unique trip accounts for one ride, regardless of who it is.
This is good news for a department that’s been reducing service for almost five years. City officials started charging riders $1 per trip in 2015 in an effort to balance the Transportation Department’s budget. Ridership fell. Two trolley stops were cut in 2018, and the trolley stopped every 30 minutes rather than 20. Ridership continued to decrease.
Dodson attributed the record fares in March to a few factors.
All Fort Lewis College students pay for a transportation pass in their student fees, and a recent outreach effort by an FLC student might have spread the word about the benefits of riding the trolley.
The city has seen an increase in the number of school groups taking the trolley for field trips, Dodson said. Some students who attend downtown schools take the trolley to the Durango Community Recreation Center, she said.
The busiest stops might also help explain March’s record, Dodson said. A lot of people take the trolley from North Animas View Drive across from the Iron Horse Inn, a trend she said could be attributed to more county residents parking north of town and taking the trolley.
The increase in ridership also could be attributed to tourism, Dodson said. There seems to be a direct correlation between transit ridership numbers and sales and lodgers tax collections, she said. This points to an important relationship between the city’s tourism and its transit, she said.
And a return to 20-minute headways from a reduction to stops every 30 minutes had a major impact, Dodson said. From May to October 2018, trolleys made stops every 30 minutes in an effort to reduce the city’s transportation deficit. The 20-minute headways came back in response to complaints about safety and timeliness of the service.
“As soon as we went back to 20 minutes, it became less of a wait,” Dodson said. “If we were able to find funding that would allow us to reduce headway on all transit routes, then ridership would increase.”