Thursday, April 11, 2024

Free Summer Shuttle to be Shortened as Coronado Considers its Future

Due to decreasing ridership, Coronado will reduce its free summer shuttle program this year.

“I’m not entirely ready to give up, but I’m pretty close,” said Councilmember Casey Tanaka in a sentiment that the rest of the council shared. The council voted unanimously to an abbreviated season at its Feb. 20 meeting.

The shuttle will now operate from July 1 to Sept. 2, with operating hours of 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. In past years, the shuttle began in June and ran until 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. Last year, the city’s four shuttles carried an average of four riders during the 10 p.m. hour.

“What worries me,” said Councilmember Mike Donovan, “is every year, there was a reason the data could be bad.”

Because of this concern, the council opted to keep the shuttle for one more season to assess ridership, as confounding factors may have led to the shuttle’s decreased use over the years. The program’s use peaked at 154,026 riders in 2019.

Then came the pandemic. The shuttle program was canceled in 2020, and while it ran in 2021, it was an abbreviated program with tourism stunted and Covid-19 restrictions in place.

Ridership on the city’s free summer shuttle has been decreasing since it hit its pre-pandemic high in 2019. City presentation slide.

In 2022, the program rebounded to nearly 80,000 riders, and the city was hopeful for the 2023 season – until the bus worker’s strike, which shortened the shuttle season and pushed ridership down to 34,248.

City staff did not have a precise cost for the shuttle service, which is operated by San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, but last year, the shuttle program cost the city about $190,000. Staff predicts a cost of $200,000 to $230,000 for the 2024 season.

Another reason the city view the ridership numbers with suspicion is that drivers – who are hired and trained by MTS – may not have adequately counted riders. Councilmember Carrie Downey suggested that the city consider investing in its own technology to count riders.

“If we’re going to make this a do or die year,” Downey said, “then the data needs to be as good as we can get it.”

Council members largely found the idea of the shuttle appealing because it reduces the number of cars on the road in Coronado. However, the city in September approved a pilot of an on-demand, door-to-door free shuttle service that will directly compete with the shuttle buses, which operate on a fixed route.

Still, Mayor Richard Bailey cautioned that the city must consider its cost per rider when, next year, the council uses this year’s data to determine the free summer shuttle program’s fate.

Megan Kitt
Megan Kitt
Megan has worked as a reporter for more than 15 years, and her work in both print and digital journalism has been published in more than 25 publications worldwide. She is also an award-winning photographer. She holds BA degrees in journalism, English literature and creative writing and an MA degree in creative writing and literature. She believes a quality news publication's purpose is to strengthen a community through informative and connective reporting.Megan is also a mother of three and a Navy spouse. After living around the world both as a journalist and as a military spouse, she immediately fell in love with San Diego and Coronado for her family's long-term home.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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