In February of this year, Fresno finally launched
the “Q,” a new express bus line with increased peak service along the two busies transit corridors in the city. In addition, the system expanded service hours past 9pm and added live bus arrival times.
While it is way too early to make any definitive statements about how Q has impacted FAX (Fresno Area Express), the early data looks promising. We now have data showing three full months under the new service plan, and the initial results are good.
First a reminder. Here is what Fresno bus ridership looked like for ten years, from July 2008 to October 2017. Pretty scary. You can read my full analysis here.
Now let us zoom in to the last 2 years. I have highlighted April and May of 2016, 2017, and 2018 to make an easier year-over-year comparison.
Since the status quo was a continuous decline, even stopping that decrease would be a positive. Instead, the system has done better and shows ridership ticking up a notch compared to previous years.
This next chart shows ridership plotted against Vehicle Revenue Hours (VRH) since 2005. The higher the VRH, the more time the buses are spending on the road serving customers. You can see that began to increase in 2017 when FAX introduced later hours and increased service on Shaw Avenue in advance of the Q rollout.
This next graph shows ridership plotted against the maximum number of buses FAX runs at a given time (rush hour peak). I like it because it helps highlight how stagnant the system was for so many years. Once again, you can see when the initial FAX-15 rolled out on Shaw and Blackstone in advance of the Q service. This one also helps to show that even with this expansion, FAX used to operate more peak service in the past. Essentially, they cut 3 routes and re-allocated the money to run those buses on other lines during other times of the day, which is why the previous graph does not show a marked decrease.
Of course, I look forward to seeing this data again once we have a few more months to look at. People do not respond immediately to transit improvements. If you bought a car because FAX service wasn’t getting you to work, it is hard to come back, for example. However, as people move and start new jobs, they might take a new look at FAX and realize that the improvements help get them to where they’re going, and at least for the near future, these improvements in service are guaranteed by federal funds.
One question that will surely be brought up: What about gas prices? They have indeed been rising. However, that increase hasn’t yet resulted in improved ridership in the peer cities I track. Modesto and Visalia are pretty flat, and Bakersfield is hard to compare with because they started counting their ridership in a new way in 2017. Across the country, I continue to read stories about how transit ridership is still falling as well.
In conclusion, congratulations FAX, you have discovered that people like better service!