Causes and effects of Metro ridership and costs
Rad Sallee at the Chronicle has a piece
today on Metro's ridership numbers, and Anne comments here
. The overall trends don't look good, with local bus ridership and revenue dropping and costs increasing, moving Metro from a 20% farebox recovery to 14% over the last 4 years. The problem is that there are so many variables in play, it's really hard to figure out exactly what's going on. The article mentions the usual issues:
- Bus route cuts
- Bus route changes to link to light rail, making trips more inconvenient with more transfers
- The Enron collapse, the recession, and the weaker office market downtown
- The problem of counting boardings instead of trips (a single trip can include multiple transfers/boardings - the new smart cards could answer this if and when they get implemented)
But there are couple other possible causes not being considered:
- Gas costs have more than doubled in the last couple of years, which could be a big part of Metro's 30% increase in operating costs. I'm sure the rail is part of that too, but it would be nice if Metro broke out what part of the increase is fuel related.
- After 9/11, interest rates dropped and the automakers slapped huge incentives on cars and trucks to keep them moving off the lots, which, in turn, lowered the prices for used vehicles. You have to believe that enabled a lot of the transit-dependent to become transit-independent. In my mind, that's a good kind of ridership loss, although it probably hasn't been so good for traffic congestion.
What would be really helpful would be some comparative transit numbers to other cities like Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin. That would isolate out national factors like fuel costs and cheap cars to see how we're doing on a relative basis.