Bus ridership in Albuquerque continues to fall and fall and fall and fall.
In the first nine months of this year, boardings on the city's fixed-route buses were down 7.5 percent over the same period in 2018. And they're down a whopping and stunning 31 percent since 2012 when bus ridership in the city peaked.
And while people continue to abandon the bus system, its taxpayer-funded budget continues to increase. ABQRide's budget has has grown by 16.8 percent since 2013.
Perhaps even more alarming is the the fact that the percentage of the bus system's operating expenses that comes from fares continues to shrink. In 2017, that percentage, known as the Farebox Recovery Ratio, was 7 percent, the lowest of any public transit system in the region, and quite possibly the lowest of any major public transit agency in the nation.
And it appears that the the transit department might ignore a resolution passed by the Albuquerque City Council in 2015 that it reach a Farebox Recovery ratio of 25 percent by June 30, 2022. Getting to a 25 percent FRR would involve raising fares—one dollar now for most rides—but ABQRide spokesman Rick De Reyes says the agency has no plans in the foreseeable future to raise fares.
DeReyes doesn't think that a 31 percent drop in ridership since 2012 is dramatic. Here's his response to my questions about the sinking ridership:
"1. Boardings are down, but not “dramatically” as you characterize them. Gas prices have been low for an unprecedented amount of time during the past 20 years and auto sales are up the past six years. That’s allowed more people to afford to drive to and from work and attractions. Transit ridership is not only down regionally during the past six years, but also on a national scale (www.govtech.com/fs/transportation/2018-Was-the-Year-of-the-Car-and-Transit-Ridership-Felt-It.html ). Also, we have not raised our fares since 2002, while other similar-sized cities and cities around the country have raised their fares two to three times in that period. Since the formula for farebox recovery rates involves current operating costs (which have gone up in the past six years), that means with a decline in ridership and rising costs, there is less money into fareboxes.
2. The Transit Dept. has been tasked by Mayor Keller to evaluate the distribution of our service. This is to make sure we’re meeting the public’s expectations for service. Farebox recovery will be part of that scenario. In the past, we have considered both raising fares and/or reducing service, which would help the boost the farebox recovery rate. However, we have no plans in the foreseeable future to do either of these things."
So let's get to the numbers.
The first graph shows just how much bus usage has fallen since 2012. Boardings so far this year are down by 3 million from the same period in 2012.
The Second graph shows the decline in ABQRide's Farebox Recovery Ratio. Ten percent in 2013, and 7 percent in 2017
The third graph shows the bus system's fare revenues. In 2013 it got $4.5 million from fares, and in 2017, $3.6 million.
The next graph shows the bus system's yearly operating expenses. It's budget grows while ridership declines.
The great decline! Boardings have dropped every year since 2012. They're now down by 31 percent!
How low can you go? ABQ's Farebox Recovery Ratio is pathetic.