Kingman bus use spikes with discount fares

KINGMAN - A per-ride rate increase from $1 to $1.50 the City Council approved more than two and a half years ago has cost the Kingman Area Regional Transit bus service nearly 20,000 riders in three years.

A pair of discounted pass programs the City Council instituted last April has sparked a rebound.

"Our ridership continues to increase," said KART Superintendent Sheri Furr at Tuesday's Council meeting.

Furr, at the invitation of Mayor Janet Watson, provided an update and overview of the bus system, part of Watson's ongoing efforts to inform the public of available city services.

Furr said ride numbers spiked dramatically between August and October, the last month that has figures available, when revenues topped or reached the $14,000 mark, something it hadn't come close to this year.

The increase in fees really hurt the service in terms of rider volume. City budget documents show that more than 116,300 people used the bus service in fiscal year 2009-2010.

Ridership plummeted by nearly 14,000 the next year after the fee increase went into effect. Riders dwindled to about 96,000 in 2012 and a modest increase of 600 is estimated for this fiscal year ending June 30.

That estimation could turn out to be low. Since April, said Furr, when riders were able to buy a $5 daily pass for unlimited access rather than having to pony up $1.50 each time they boarded, ridership has increased.

Purchasers of monthly passes, which give riders unlimited access for $65 a month, or $55 for riders age 60 and older and veterans, which was also approved in April, save more money.

Revenues since April's discounts allowed KART to earn more money each month than it did in the same month in 2012.

Riders are not just riding the bus to get away from it all, either. In fact, 73 percent use the bus for essential activities.

According to Furr, 37 percent of KART riders use the bus for work. Another 26 percent take the bus to do their shopping and 10 percent use KART to make their medical appointments. Other reasons provided for riding the bus, such as recreation, obtaining social services, and going to school (college or other) account for a combined 13 percent of ridership. The remaining 15 percent listed "other."

There are nine buses that run four routes with between 17 and 32 stops. Since April, KART buses have made 18,000 stops.

KART also provides "curb to curb" service for the disabled. More than 1,700 people are clients of the service, and they must call in advance. An average of 600 of them are regular riders.

While the number of riders is up and so is revenue, KART is heavily subsidized each year to the tune of about $460,000 in federal grants and another $200,000 from the city. The annual cost estimate for fiscal year 2013-2014 ending June 30 is pegged at more than $670,000, not counting revenues generated by fares, according to city budget documents.

Furr said 81 percent of riders have no other means to get around than on the KART system. The remaining 19 percent have vehicles but ride the bus to save money.

In addition to Furr and her administrative assistant, there are nine full-time drivers and one part-time driver on staff. A part-time driver position remains vacant.

KART operates six days a week. The average daily ridership Monday through Friday is about 500. The Saturday ridership is about 350.

"We're always evaluating our rates and services," said Furr. "We're always trying to improve."

One task she was given at Tuesday's meeting is to increase revenues through advertising on the buses and on television monitors the city installed in them two years ago.

The program never got off the ground because the firm hired to run it couldn't afford the required insurance, but Furr, who has been on the job for two years, said getting the advertising operation up and running is a priority.

She defends the bus service, saying it helps thousands of riders take care of business.

"A lot of people don't use the service so they don't realize how valuable it is to so many of their neighbors," said Furr.