Ridership on Fresno Area Express, the city's municipal bus service, amounted to about 10.7 million trips last year — the lowest it's been in 16 years, according to figures recently released by the American Public Transportation Association.
The same report shows bus ridership in Visalia has been on the upswing for five straight years.
The APTA data, compiled from quarterly reports submitted by transit agencies, commuter rail lines and and other public transportation systems nationwide, shows that Fresno's ridership has fallen each year since peaking at more than 14 million trips in 2008. That decline, almost 24% in five years, comes even as nationwide use of public transportation reached its highest point in almost 60 years.
The FAX figures include both its fixed-route buses as well as its Handy Ride, a dial-a-ride service for people with disabilities. Fresno's Handy Ride service reported almost 206,000 trips in 2013, an increase of 0.64% from 2012, according to the APTA statistics. But on the fixed-route FAX buses, the number of trips taken by riders fell by almost 2.7% compared to 2012.
The FAX ridership for 2013 in the APTA database is the lowest for the Fresno system since 1997, when ridership was reported at less than 10.4 million. APTA's database archive dates to 1996.
Fresno City Manager Bruce Rudd said a number of factors are responsible for Fresno's downward trend. "Along with a reduction in service, the economy, subsequent increase in fares, (and) elasticity in the market all contributed to a decline in ridership," he said.
The APTA figures report "unlinked" trips. One passenger riding one vehicle is an unlinked trip; a passenger who transfers from one bus to a second bus represents two unlinked trips.
In neighboring Tulare County, the Visalia City Coach bus system has seen five consecutive years of ridership growth, according to APTA. Almost 1.8 million trips were reported on Visalia City Coach's buses and its Dial-A-Ride vehicles in 2013. Not only is that an increase of about 0.4% over 2012, and almost 24% more than 2009, but it represents the highest number of trips in the APTA data going back through 1996.
The APTA suggested that the nationwide increase in trips on public transportation may be related to economic recovery. "When more people are employed, public transportation ridership increases, since nearly 60% of the trips taken … are for work commutes," APTA president/CEO Michael Melaniphy said in a statement.
What: Fresno City Council debate on controversial bus rapid transit project
Where: Fresno City Council Chamber, 2600 E St.
When: Scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday
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