Arlington Transit (ART) bus service

The Arlington government offers Arlington Transit (ART) bus service through a contract with a private provider. (Arlington government photo)

The Arlington Transit (ART) bus network saw less of a fall-off in ridership during the initial phase of the COVID crisis than some other public-transit systems across the region, according to new data.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, the ART system – funded by the Arlington government but operated by a private contractor – reported an average daily bus boarding total of 8,224, down 12.8 percent from the 9,434 reported for the previous fiscal year.

A decline of that magnitude may seem like not much to celebrate, but keep in mind it includes a three-month period from April to June that saw the local area in the depths of the COVID pandemic and lockdown, which cut ridership to nearly nothing before beginning a very gradual, and far from complete, rebound.

That decline in year-over-year average daily boardings for ART compares to a drop of 18.6 percent for the Fairfax Connector system; a decline of 16.1 percent for Alexandria’s DASH system; and a drop of 23.6 percent for Metrobus ridership across Northern Virginia.

Across Northern Virginia as a whole, transit ridership for the fiscal year ending June 30 totaled 62.1 million, down 23.8 percent from a year before and off nearly a third from fiscal 2016.

(Those figures include ridership on the Metro and Virginia Railway Express rail systems; Metrobus in Northern Virginia; and both intra-locality and interjurisdictional bus service across the region.)

While Arlington officials may be pleased that the ART figures weren’t worse, the bus network had posted year-over-year declines in fiscal 2018 and 2019. If comparing the recently concluded fiscal year with the high point of ART ridership in fiscal 2017, the average daily count was down 27.7 percent.

Figures were reported to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission earlier in the month.

The ART system benefited from a strong first half of the fiscal year (July through December 2019), when passenger counts were up 6.7 percent from a year before – more a game of catch-up from previous higher levels than of setting any new records.

At the end of 2019, the county government parted ways with the longtime operator of the bus service, shifting the contract to First Transit, which runs several hundred bus systems across the nation, including OmniRide in Prince William County.

At the time, officials said the switch was made to attempt to address issues related to on-time reliability.

The ART system was created in the 1990s to lower the county government’s costs of providing transit service. Its routes often replaced similar service provided by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metrobus network.

[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]

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