|At the December 5, 2018, Board of Directors meeting, the Board directed staff to investigate the feasibility to provide bus service to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (Rodeo). Per the presentation to the Board and based on FTA guidance, the Township's Woodlands Express service could be used for events of "regional or national significance" and FTA Region VI advised Township staff that the Rodeo would qualify as such an event. It is staff's understanding that such service would not be eligible for FTA reimbursement through the Township's transportation grants. Per the direction from the Board, the service would be expected to recover 100% of cost of the service from bus fares.
The Rodeo grounds are open daily from 8:00 a.m. to midnight beginning February 25 through March 17 for the 2019 event. As the Township's Express / Park and Ride service operates Monday through Friday from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., providing a new service with Township owned buses from park and ride lots that are substantially full of commuters' vehicles would be problematic to provide service on weekdays. An exception could be a weekday service from the Sterling Ridge Park and Ride location as that location typically has more open parking capacity. It should be noted that due to obligations for weekend parking at the Sawdust and Research Forest Park and Rides to sports organizations, Sterling Ridge is the only viable facility available on the weekends.
The demand for service from the Township to the Rodeo is unknown, therefore impossible to forecast ridership levels at this time. The Rodeo operated Rodeo Express and METRO does not survey point of origin data from past Rodeos nor has the Township conducted a survey to project ridership interest. Additional time would be needed to conduct surveys on interest to better forecast potential ridership if such information is desired.
Therefore, if the service is to be implemented, it is recommended to operate on a reservation system so that the appropriate number of buses can be allocated to meet the demand and to assure riders a bus will be available. First Class Tours (FCT), the Township's Woodlands Express contracted service provider, has the capability to manage an online reservation system, similar to how they operate Casino excursions. Passengers could make reservations online on a website and reserve and pay for seats for The Woodlands Express Rodeo Shuttle at any time/any day. The volume of service to the Rodeo can be scaled up or down depending on reservations and anticipated demand; but the Preliminary Schedule as presented is thought to be a good starting point.
Staff in conjunction with FCT has developed a preliminary schedule (Attachment A) and cost estimate. The schedule and estimate are based on service to the Rodeo from the Sterling Ridge Park and Ride location on Saturdays and Sundays beginning at 9:00 a.m. with nine departures from the Township throughout the day, the last departure leaving the Township at 7:15 p.m. The last departure back to the Township would leave the Rodeo at 11:15 p.m.
This proposed schedule would require approximately 49 bus hours per day and the rate for the turnkey operation including reservations and supervision would be $105 per bus hour or approximately $5,145 per day. This rate is lower than the contracted rate for the Woodlands Express service as the Rodeo service would be much more efficient in terms of number of buses required, number of stops, and bus operator schedules. Weekend service would require six days totaling approximately $30,870 cost to the Township.
With nine buses operating at an average of 30 passengers per outbound departure or 270 riders per day (1,620 for the 3 weekends) would be required to recover the cost = $19.05 per rider. It is recommended to charge $25 for a round-trip ticket. For comparison, The Woodlands Express averaged 26 passengers per trip in 2018. The proposed price of $25 per passenger would still achieve a break-even operation with ridership of 23 passengers. The additional funds over bus operation expenses would be used to offset marketing and advertising costs.
At this time a definite drop-off/ stop location at or near the Rodeo has not been determined, but it is believed the new service cannot be integrated into the 2019 Rodeo Express routes as the Rodeo's Transporation Plan has been established for the 2019 event. It is possible for the stop location to be in the parking lots west of the Rodeo on Kirby and Main. The worst case scenario for a stop could be located near the old Astro World site, south of the Rodeo.
Another option is to defer a 2019 service to: 1) survey the demand and interest in potential ridership to better gauge the potential financial cost/risk; 2) work to integrate service from the Township to the Rodeo with the Rodeo Express for the 2020 event; 3) develop a more robust and comprehensive marketing campaign.
If the Board determines to initiate the new service for the 2019 Rodeo, staff will endeavor to market the new service as best possible within the new few weeks thorough various methods of advertising.
In addition, if it is determined to initate the new service for the 2019 Rodeo, it is recommended to authorize the President/General Manager to execute any necessary amendments to the agreement with FCT and any other agency required to activate the service, within the limits of the President's purchasing authority, and as approved to final form by the Township Attorney.