ABQ bus system near collapse; ridership down 61 percent
By Dennis Domrzalski
-- 2020 bus boardings down 43 percent over previous year. That's 3.9 million fewer boardings.
-- Boardings down by 61 percent since 2012 peak. That's 7.9 million fewer boardings.
-- While business plunges, the Transit Department's budget soars. Up by 28 percent.
The year 2020, that of the COVID scare and shutdowns, might go down as the year in which the city of Albuquerque's public transportation bus system collapsed.
Bus ridership last year was down by 43 percent from 2019, and down by an astounding 61 percent from 2012, when bus ridership here peaked.
And while some will blame the stunning ridership drop on the virus and the lockdowns, the fact is that bus ridership on the city's fixed-route lines has been falling since 2012, according to figures from the National Transportation Administration. In 2019, bus boardings had dropped by 4 million, or 31 percent, from 2012.
Bus boardings—each time someone gets on a bus—totaled 5.1 million in 2020, a drop of 7.9 million since 2012 when they peaked at 13 million.
(Note: Each time a person gets on a bus it's counted as a boarding. If you take two buses to and from work everyday, you will have had four boardings a day, or 20 in a five-day work week.)
But, while the bus system has lost 61 percent of its business, it's budget has grown by 28 percent. So, while ridership has plunged, the budget has soared. In 2012, when ridership peaked, the Transit Department's budget was $47.6 million. In 2020 it was $55.5 million.
And the bus system's farebox recovery ratio, meaning the percentage of its operating budget it gets from passenger fares, remains pathetic, and quite possibly the lowest of any major public transit system in the United States. In 2013, the system took in $4.5 million in fares, which accounted to 10 percent of its operating budget. In 2019, the last year from which data is available, fares totaled $4.1 million, or 7.5 percent of the budget.
But Albuquerque isn't alone in seeing commuters abandon public transportation. According to an October, 2020, article by USAFacts, public transit ridership has fallen all over the nation.
“Monthly transit usage — which includes public transportation like buses, subways, trains, trolleys, and ferries — began falling in March, when states implemented stay-at-home orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic,” the article said. “According to data from the National Transit Database, monthly transit ridership hit a low of 156.6 million rides in April 2020 — that’s 81.3% lower than the 835.2 million rides taken in April 2019.”
What is unknown is whether riders will return to buses and subways after the virus fears fade and more and more people get vaccinated, or whether they have permanently left public transit. And if commuters don't return to public transit, cities will have to rethink whether they still want to fund it.
All public transit systems are subsidized by public funds, but major losses of fare revenues could really lead to service and budget cuts.