When Sun Metro’s first bus rapid transit line, Brio, opened in October, it took just 11 days of regular operation to exceed the initial projection of 2,410 daily riders.
In its first two full months of operation, Brio’s ridership reached 122,638 passengers, close to the objective set a year ago.
“We will be looking at the type of ridership we’re getting,” Sun Metro spokeswoman Savannah Leeper said when asked if they know about the mix of riders the metro-style service is attracting.
“Right now, we’re just looking to get the public familiar with how it works and using the Brio to increase ridership,” she said.
Brio’s inaugural route covers 8.4 miles from the Downtown Transfer Center at Santa Fe and Third Street, up Oregon and Mesa to the Al Jefferson Westside Transfer Center on Remcon Circle. It makes 11 stops in each direction.
Last Tuesday morning, the ride from Remcon to Downtown took exactly 30 minutes, just as the route calls for. It left with about 20 passengers, more than half of whom were headed for the University of Texas at El Paso or El Paso Community College.
They included Victor Delgado, a computer science junior at UTEP, who was headed to school for the first day of the spring semester.
He typically rides the bus to school using a $7 weekly student pass to avoid the regular $1.50 fare.
Delgado had no complaints about taking Sun Metro buses or the Brio, in particular.
“It saves me a lot of money and time,” he said, noting that UTEP charges $150 for a semester parking pass and that parking off campus is a nightmare.
“Brio is definitely faster than driving or taking a regular bus,” he said.
Delgado, who has a car, is the kind of passenger Sun Metro dreams about.
While a lot of El Pasoans wouldn’t dream of taking the bus, Delgado said he and his brother have been riding around town that way for years.
He said he even takes the bus to meet up with friends for a meal or a party.
Brio’s 60,344 passengers in November and 62,294 in December put the Mesa Street route at No. 10 on Sun Metro’s most-used list and in the top 80 percent of all bus routes.
Originally, Sun Metro intended to kick off Brio service up and down the Mesa Street corridor in July.
“We ran into a delay with the construction of shelters along Mesa,” Leeper said. “There were some unforeseen underground utility issues we didn’t account for, so we had to push the start day back a little.”
By the numbers
Sun Metro’s top line is Route 59, the Eastside Connector, which is an express route from the Eastside Transfer Center to the Downtown center, hitting City Hall on the way.
In November and December, that route carried 218,094 passengers, according to figures furnished by Sun Metro.
The second heaviest route is No. 35, which connects the Downtown Transfer Center to the Northgate center in Northeast via Dyer.
It carries more than 85,000 passengers a month saw nearly 172,000 total in November and December.
Although the Brio run that left the Westside center at 8:40 a.m. last Tuesday wasn’t close to full, 40 passengers crowded onto the same 48-seat Brio 30 minutes later for the ride out of Downtown.
Sun Metro has 10 of the articulated buses that can carry 72 passengers in all. They run every 10 minutes during rush hours.
UTEP students Juan Ochoa and Luis Marquez were coming from Juárez.
“I’m from here, but I live in Juárez now and cross every day,” said Ochoa, who is working on a bachelor’s degree in anthropology.
Like Delgado, both said they have cars of their own but leave them parked when possible.
“I’ve been riding buses since I was 8 or 9,” said Marquez, who used to live near Chapin High School and regularly rode the bus to work in Socorro.
“It was a long ride but you don’t get stressed with the traffic,” he said. “You just sit back and enjoy the ride.”
And there’s no comparison when it comes to crossing from Juárez, Ochoa said.
“I have my car in Juárez, but this is way better than driving and waiting in line,” he said.
Both young men jumped off at the Glory Road Transfer Center and the driver Richard Mata released another passenger’s wheelchair from security hooks so he could exit the bus.
Sun Metro and the city plan three more Brio routes.
The next one will serve the Alameda Avenue corridor where Sun Metro plans to start construction in 2016.
Work on the Dyer Street corridor will start in 2018, followed by the Montana Avenue corridor in 2019.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.