City leaders have put a lot of stock into the idea that Albuquerque Rapid Transit bus service on Central will get more people on the bus.
While the BRT (bus rapid transit) project still has yet to launch, the city’s existing bus service is seeing falling ridership numbers.
A newly published report from the city’s ABQ RIDE bus service shows a decreasing number of riders are boarding buses in total and a decrease in ridership on some of the bus system’s most popular routes.
“We had the Rapid Ride routes overall decrease about 15 percent ridership over the previous year, we had the Route 66 decrease in ridership about 9 percent,” said Rick DeReyes, spokesman for ABQ Ride.
DeReyes is referring to the comparison between Fiscal Year 2018 and Fiscal Year 2017 data.
According to the numbers collected by ABQ Ride for Rapid Ride buses, ridership fell from 1.91 million total riders on all Rapid Ride routes in FY 2017, to 1.65 million total riders on all Rapid Ride routes in FY 2018.
On the popular Route 66 bus across Central Avenue, the total number of riders fell from 2.26 million total riders in FY 2017, to 2.06 million total riders in FY 2017.
The city thinks low gas prices and ART construction on Central are in part to blame but say there are other factors.
“We’re looking at decreases all over the country in ridership in most major cities,” said DeReyes. “Especially in the southwestern cities like Denver and Phoenix, comparable cities, but we’re talking about El Paso, Lubbock, Tucson, some of those cities as well.”
Looking back an additional year to compare data between FY 2016 and FY 2018, the ridership decline is especially noticeable.
In FY 2016 (July 2015-June 2016), ABQ Ride counted 11.20 million riders on all Rapid Ride and regular routes.
In FY 2018 (July 2017-June 2018) ABQ Ride counted 9.47 million riders on all Rapid Ride and regular routes.
The continued decline in ridership comes as the city prepares to launch the ART bus services sometime in the next year.
As the project began construction in late 2016, Mayor Richard Berry argued, in part, that ART service on Central was needed to carry ridership growth into the future.
“I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t feel like it was the best things for us, for the kids, for our future,” said Mayor Berry in November 2016.
ABQ RIDE still thinks ART itself will get more people riding the bus once the service launches.
“Once we get a chance to get people to realize how much more timely that system will be, we’re hoping that people will be attracted to that,” said DeReyes.
The city is also now starting the process of reviewing the entire system of bus routes to see what they should change. A similar undertaking in Seattle and Houston recently resulted in increased overall ridership in those metro-areas as the cities focused on making changes to service.
“We’re hoping that that re-examination will help us boost ridership,” said DeReyes.
The city also points to the launch of Rapid Ride bus routes as proof that new service can help attract more people. DeReyes told KRQE News 13 that the service, which launched in FY 2014, helped draw in more riders over a five year period.
In FY 2014, DeReyes says ABQ Ride saw about 7.4 million total bus riders on the service. By FY 2009 when the city launched the last leg of Rapid Ride service, DeReyes said ABQ RIDE saw more than 10 million bus riders.
The city says a few bus routes also saw increased ridership over the last fiscal years, including routes on Zuni, Menaul and San Mateo.