The Capital Area Transit System received its highest marks yet on a customer satisfaction survey that has been distributed twice a year for the past two years, illustrating increases in the number of riders who say they’d recommend the service to others based on their positive experiences using the public buses.

But the increase in positive marks mostly came from customer service improvements, while marks in bus frequency on a route and showing up on time continue to stand out as the bus system’s weakness. At the same time, riders said these were the issues most important to them in their bus system.

Meanwhile, the survey illustrates that the vast majority of CATS riders are low-income people who have no other options for transportation, despite hopes in recent years that service improvements would attract people dubbed “riders of choice” who have other transit options.

Overall, TransPro, a consulting company that has overseen the customer satisfaction polls, said CATS received a “net promoter score” of 29 percent. The score is derived from the percentage of people who said they would advise against CATS subtracted from the percentage saying they would recommend CATS. The survey, administered in late October and early November, found that 52 percent of the respondents said they’d promote CATS and 23 percent were detractors. The other 25 percent were considered passive and fell into neither category.

The survey has been administered four times since March 2014 as a means to measure the transit agency’s performance since it implemented service changes and expansions related to the 2012 property tax vote. The previous surveys yielded net promoter scores of 3 percent, 19 percent and most recently negative 11 percent. The last survey, which had dramatically lower scores in several categories, was blamed on employee demonstrations and picketing against management during a feud that ran close to the time that survey was administered.

Services provided by CATS Call Center received the highest satisfaction ratings among the employee groups rated, and showed consistent improvement across all four surveys.

“We are pleased to see that our investments in improving both bus service and customer service over the course of this year have resulted in significant improvement in overall rider satisfaction,” CATS CEO Bob Mirabito said in a statement. “We strive each day to find ways to better serve this community, and we will continue to prioritize improvements that will help our riders.”

CATS’ lowest satisfaction marks came from bus service itself. Only 40 percent of respondents said they were satisfied that CATS buses arrive on time, and 49 percent were satisfied with the number of buses on the roads.

At the same time, the plurality of CATS respondents said a bus arriving on time is the most important element of CATS service out of 10 options. Fare price came in second. Availability of the Call Center, which scored the highest in improvements, ranked as the second least important element to customers.

The report also suggests that CATS re-evaluate what it considers “on time.” CATS defines on-time performance as being within 10 minutes of the scheduled time. It boasts its buses are “on time” 75 percent of the time, with this definition. But more than 40 percent of the people responding to the survey said 10 minutes or more is an unacceptable amount of time to wait.

“Even if they were on time 100 percent of the time (by CATS definition), 42 percent of riders wouldn’t buy it,” said Lyndsey Scofield, a senior consultant at TransPro.

According to the survey, 93 percent of respondents said they are regular CATS riders who use the service at least three days a week, and 64 percent said they have ridden for at least a year.

Some 74 percent of respondents earn less than $25,000 a year. Only 13 percent of respondents said they were riding CATS by choice.

CATS administered 513 surveys during all service periods of the day and every day of the week for the polling period.

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