Good news: Ridership on Metro’s Airport Direct service is way up. Bad news: Thanks to the reduced fare, revenue is down.
Launched in 2008, Airport Direct has always lost money. The service costs about $1.9 million a year to operate, and even at $15 per ride, fares brought in only about $450,000 annually.
Under the $15 fare, peak monthly revenue was about $47,000 in October, with 3,716 boardings. (One person making a round trip equals two boardings.)
May’s 8,892 boardings at the $4.50 fare brought in about $30,500.
I calculated before that Metro needed something like 945 passengers per day to break even on this. 8,892 boardings in May equates to 287 boardings per day, less than a third of what they require. That’s for Month 6 of their six-month experiment on this. It’s a useful service, and I hope they can find a way to make it work, but it’s hard for me to see how they get there from here.
UPDATE: The Chron says that Metro needs to keep trying to figure it out.
We believe it’s essential that Houston have dependable, affordable public transport linking IAH and downtown. Given the prohibitively high cost of building a light rail line to the airport, some form of bus service is the only option.
Just as the downtown convention center hotel was a key element in boosting the marketability of the George R. Brown Convention Center, so the shuttle bolsters a wide range of commerce throughout Houston.
As a service to the community, the shuttle shouldn’t be expected to totally pay for itself with user fares. But we agree with Greanias that the current cost to Metro is unsustainable. Rather than cancel the service, there are other ways to spread the burden.
The newly created public corporation Houston First, which manages the George R. Brown, the convention center hotel and other city venues, should consider partially subsidizing the airport shuttle. Metro could raise the cost of a ride to cover a larger share of expenses. Even at double the current $4.50, the shuttle would still be far cheaper than taxis or commercial services.
The current 30-minute pick-up cycle could be extended to once an hour, reducing the overall cost of program operations. A share of the hotel-motel occupancy tax might be earmarked by the city for the airport shuttle budget.
I think these suggestions have some merit, but unless the service can be made self-supporting, it’s a question of who will pay to subsidize it. It’s not clear to me that anyone is interested in doing that.