AppalCart seeks public input on Night Owl services after decrease in activity

With+a+decrease+in+ridership%2C+AppalCart+is+looking+to+change+its+service+routes.+Some+nights+have+seen+as+few+as+18+total+riders+for+all+Night+Owl+routes+combined.

Jesse Barber

With a decrease in ridership, AppalCart is looking to change its service routes. Some nights have seen as few as 18 total riders for all Night Owl routes combined.

Gianna Holiday, Associate News Editor

Low ridership this fall means AppalCart may change the Night Owl service. 

AppalCart gave notice of a public hearing regarding potential changes to the Night Owl Service beginning Jan. 19, 2021. The changes will reflect the decrease in ridership on the Night Owl routes during the fall 2020 semester. 

AppalCart implemented Night Owl routes to serve as a safe transportation option for those passengers who may work late hours on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, and those who may want to study or just enjoy a late evening with friends. It also serves to lighten the load on SafeRide, who serves primarily campus.

In 2019, AppalCart, App State staff and the AppalCart Board identified changes with Night Owl service needs. Lifestyle changes because of COVID-19 have greatly impacted ridership on the Night Owl routes. 

According to an AppalCart press release, some nights have seen as little as 18 total riders for all Night Owl routes combined. This is a costly service for a limited number of riders: the typical operating cost is about $60 per hour per route. Night Owl runs for a total of 13.5 hours on Thursday nights, 13.5 hours on Friday nights and 25.5 hours on Saturday nights, totaling about $3,150 per week. 

“The university is on a financial crunch right now because there’s not a lot going on on campus right now that generates revenue,” said Craig Hughes, AppalCart director. “We’re tight on money too, everyone right now has to tighten their belt buckle.”

Hughes says the average ridership on those nights is about 1.3 passengers per hour. Average ridership drops below one trip per round after midnight on these nights.

“Honestly I think a significant factor in ridership barriers is how comfortable people feel navigating it,” said Amelia Shore, a junior. “I don’t have a car, I’m in my third year in Boone, but I’ve rarely used the AppalCart because my freshman year I had experiences in which I either read the map wrong or had an outdated map and got stranded.”

Ridership on Night Owl Routes was lower at the start of the fall semester and has decreased. Oct. 23, AppalCart had 11 riders throughout the night, as three buses operated over the course of four hours.

“If there’s still a demand for our services, we want to be around to do it but as of right now, the raw data is just not showing it,” Hughes said.