With the recent launch
of the new “Q
” bus service in Fresno, many articles have been asking
if this will stop the decline in bus ridership. However, I have yet to see any article actually talk about numbers. What has the decline been? How long has it been happening? Well, let’s solve that mystery and dive right in!
I last looked at ridership in July 2015. That post was titled “7 years of decline.” Unfortunately, it hasn’t gotten better.
We begin with the big picture: Ridership by month on Fresno’s bus system, FAX, from July 2005 to December 2017. These numbers are for regular buses only, not including para-transit. Clovis, which operates its own system, is also not included.
Peak month is not a surprise. Ridership peaked in October 2008 with 1,390,745 bus rides.
That makes a lot of sense: the housing market was crashing, there was major turmoil in Wall Street, unemployment was on its way up (11.1% in October, on its way to 15.4% in February), and gas prices were skyrocketing ($4.64 a gallon in July 2008). People were desperate to save money, and riding the bus was a way to do so. This was true around the country. Additionally, FAX had recently implemented 15-minute service on major lines, thanks to a federal grant.
And then things started heading south. Even though people needed the bus, the city was slashing services left and right because they were broke. They eliminated the highway express routes, decreased service frequency, and eliminated routes 4, 12, 18, and 56. On top of that, they hiked fares.
As the economy started to very, very slowly pick up, ridership continued to fall.
Ridership fell to 803,866 in July 2011, an astonishing decrease of 42% from peak. (Unemployment was 16.2% in Fresno that month)
This past July, unemployment reached 8.6%, similar to the “good old days” of 2006.
FAX ridership July 2017: 570,395. A decline of 59% since the peak. October 2017, the annual high point, was 866,634, below even 2005/
I had no idea it had gotten this bad. Here is what almost 10 years of decline looks like:
Incidentally, Fresno population in 2008 was 472,949, which increased to 522,053 for 2016.
These next charts show how Fresno cut service. The first is ridership compared with Vehicle Revenue Miles, or distances the buses travel when picking up customers. A smaller number means less buses and/or less routes. The cuts in 1010 are very clear.
This one is similar, but with Vehicle Hours Traveled, compared with ridership. Same idea, less service, less hours the buses are rolling.
Neither measure is perfect. For example, if FAX were to send a single bus on a route to San Francisco every day, and it carried one person, the charts would show a huge increase in service hours and miles, but that wouldn’t really be an improvement.
However, it is useful data. You can clearly see the cuts in service Recently, you can see an increase in 2017. This is because the Q route was supposed to be open by 2017, so Fresno started using some of the operating grants to increase service.
Passengers on two of the busiest Fresno transit routes to and from Fresno State will start seeing more frequent weekday bus service starting Monday, just a week before the start of spring-semester classes at the university.
FAX15 is the brand for the city’s new service, on which new buses will run every 15 minutes on portions of Shaw and Cedar avenues from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. FAX stands for Fresno Area Express, the city’s public bus system.
More buses will mean that passengers on the prime sections of two routes won’t have to wait more than 15 minutes for the next bus to come along.
On FAX’s north-south Route 38 along Cedar Avenue, the FAX 15 buses will run between Jensen Avenue and Shaw Avenue, said Brian Marshall, the city’s transportation director.