Voting With Their Automobiles

Transit is dying in America -- and New Mexico

Restaurants? Movie theaters? Commercial leasing?

No “industry” has been battered more by lockdown lunacy than transit.

But then again, government buses and trains were emptying long before anyone knew about The Rona.

Last month, Randal O’Toole, the invaluable scholar who’s waged a lonely campaign against the fantasies of “smart growth” for more than two decades, reported that “Americans drove more miles in June 2021 than June 2019, the first time … that driving exceeded pre-pandemic levels.” But the recovery was far from complete for transit — its June ridership “was 50.3 percent of June 2019.”

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No shock there. In 2018, O’Toole wrote that “public transportation” had “experienced four straight years of ridership losses.” And what’s true nationally is true for New Mexico. Something happened around 2014. Ride-hailing technology, the rise of telecommuting, an aging population, the explosion in “homelessness” — whatever the causes, Peak Transit appears to have been reached the year the Giants last won the World Series.

Source: Randal O’Toole’s enhanced version of National Transit Database time series spreadsheet

Take Albuquerque. Trips on the city’s transit system, ABQ Ride, tumbled by 28.9 percent between 2014 and 2019. Right behind it, the Rio Metro Regional Transit District (translation: the New Mexico Rail Runner Express) experienced a decline of 28.5 percent.

Source: Randal O’Toole’s enhanced version of National Transit Database time series spreadsheet

To the south, the dropoff for the Las Cruces bus system began a year early. Between 2013 and 2019, ROADRunner Transit saw 26.5 percent of its “customers” vanish.

Source: Randal O’Toole’s enhanced version of National Transit Database time series spreadsheet

And Santa Fe? There’s been some serious backsliding on the “carbon footprint” of transportation in the City Different. While it arrived a year later, Peak Transit struck Santa Fe Trails hard, cutting the service’s passenger count by 20.6 percent between 2015 and 2019.

Source: Randal O’Toole’s enhanced version of National Transit Database time series spreadsheet

Rest assured, the data won’t do much to alter transit’s sacred-cow status in the Land of Enchantment. Protected by Republicans and Democrats alike, government buses and trains provide paychecks for an army of unionized voters — er, “dedicated public servants.” In Albuquerque, transit ranked #3 in city employment by function in 2019, behind only police and fire/rescue. In Santa Fe and Las Cruces, the ranking was #5.

The transit death spiral is real. So are the dollars taxpayers must contribute to a mode of transportation that deserves a mercy killing.

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