The Washington Post had a story Tuesday headlined "As gas prices fall, transit still popular," which reports that Metrorail in Washington, D.C., and other transit agencies around the country are seeing no falloff in ridership as gas prices decline.
Transit officials attributed much of the ridership increase earlier this year to skyrocketing gasoline prices. But despite falling pump prices -- from a national average of $4.11 a gallon in July to $1.82 yesterday -- transit ridership is setting records in some parts of the country, officials said.One of those parts of the country setting records in ridership is here in Sacramento. While Metrorail in Washington, D.C., reports ridership increases of up to 5 percent over of the last four months ending October, Sacramento Regional Transit has seen double-digit increases during that period.
That fact probably says more about RT's historic underperformance in the community than any comparison with Metrorail, but it is still worth celebrating.
October 2008 to October 2007 comparisons show increases across the board. Total bus ridership is up 23.5 percent and light rail is up 22.5 percent. This was even better than RT did in September, when bus ridership grew 10.3 percent over September 2007 and light rail increased 19.3 percent.
I originally started trying to get the latest statistics from RT back on Dec. 1 after reading a story in the Contra Costa Times that reported "Unemployment slows BART ridership gains, officials say." I expected lowering of gas prices to push down ridership, but the impact of the increasing unemployment was a surprising turn.
Earlier in the year, RT officials and others talked about the "perfect storm" of high gas prices and increasing environmental sensitivity pushing more people to leave their cars at home and take transit. Could an equally big "perfect storm" of lower gas prices and joblessness drive the numbers in the other direction?
For Sacramento, the pending rate increases add something even more troubling to that question.
So when I finally saw the October results I was at first relieved. More record increases. Bus service, which suffered a 5 percent service cut in January, had made up that and was still leading light rail ridership.
But I found a little fact in the statistics that raises a caution flag. It is in the breakout of ridership between weekday, Saturday and Sunday.
While total ridership for both light rail and buses was up for the previous month, the 65,400 weekday bus riders represented a 6.2 percent decline from September's 69,700. All of the increase in bus ridership came from weekend riders. See further discussion in comments below.
Is the rise in joblessness in Sacramento starting to bite? It will be interesting to see what the November ridership statistics reveal.
Sacramento Regional Transit Monthly Ridership Report Sep08
Sacramento Regional Transit Monthly Ridership Report Oct08