URBANA — For a month with above-average temperatures and below-average snowfall, January sure was a big month for bus ridership in Champaign-Urbana.
The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District set a record for January riders, carrying 1,077,033 passengers. The previous January record was 927,630 in January 2012.
Further, there were seven days last month when the MTD carried more than 60,000 riders. Before last month the MTD had carried 60,000-plus riders on only three days in its nearly 42-year history.
The MTD set a new single-day record on Jan. 31 when 63,174 passengers boarded its buses. The previous one-day record, set Jan. 20, 2011, was 61,359.
Jan. 31, 2013, a Thursday, was one of the coldest days last month with a high of 24 degrees and a low of 6. There also was a trace of snow.
"This is indeed record-setting, not only in terms of the number of people we're carrying in one day, but the number of days in which we're carrying over 60,000," said Tom Costello, the MTD's assistant director. "Obviously cold weather does it. But we really haven't had any severe, severe weather, as we in central Illinois are used to."
In fact, January temperatures were about 4 degrees above normal and snowfall amounted to less than 2 inches.
As much as three-fourths of the MTD's riders during the academic year are University of Illinois students, Costello said.
"It used to be about two-thirds of our ridership was the U of I, but I think we're really crawling toward 70 to 75 percent now," he said. "But if you look at the notion that students are more and more inclined to use public transportation — that's a national trend — coupled with the way our students have this service available to them, I think we're seeing what we thought would happen. Imagine if we had these riders all with automobiles. I think that would be a problem for our road system."
The big ridership days did not cause significant problems for the MTD, he said.
"We've grown our fleet of buses from 99 to 102 so that when we have weather situations we're able to react a little bit better," Costello said. "We didn't have anything out of the ordinary.
"Once we get past about the first month of school, we can see where the patterns are. We know, for example, that at 8:40 in the morning we're going to have overloads on North Lincoln Avenue so we already have extra buses dispatched there to deal with the overloads. Also at that time, over at Florida and Philo we're going to have overloads. Our controller will send a bus over there before the regular route bus by maybe a minute."
January's total ridership was still far below the record of 1,391,5766, set last October.
"Usually our record months are set in October. It has the most days," Costello explained. "We know it won't be in February because it has fewer days. In January, we usually don't start school (at the UI) until the 21st or the 22nd. October is full of everything, there are 31 days, no holidays, no breaks. It normally is our busiest month."