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Eyewitness News Investigates: Bus Ridership

FAX passenger rides have been declining for years, and are now at a low point for the decade.
Eyewitness News investigates bus ridership in Fresno.  Last week city leaders voted against moving forward with a Bus Rapid Transit system that would run in addition to regular FAX  buses, but city councilors say this is only the beginning of public transportation discussions. 
Eyewitness News pulled the ridership numbers for the last ten years, and found that last year's numbers were the lowest in a decade.  With BRT talks still looming, it begs the question: would Fresno support adding more buses to the current system?

Bus 28, which travels through northeast and southeast Fresno, is the most-used route in the city.  From July of 2012 to June of 2013, it provided over a million passenger trips.  In those same 12 months, FAX totaled 10.6 million passenger trips, which is the lowest total in a decade.  Ridership peaked in 2008 with 14 million passenger trips, a difference of 2.4 million.

"Reduction of service, the economy, and then subsequent increase in fares, elasticity in the market, all contributed to decline in ridership," said Bruce Rudd, Fresno City Manager. 

The city is now grappling with whether to add 14 larger buses using $50 million in grant money.  The BRT would speed up travel down main corridors, Blackstone and Ventura/Kings Canyon.  Although ridership is down, City Councilman Sal Quintero believes there will eventually be a demand for service.

"The time is going to come, in the near future, that we will get more ridership and that's simply because of population growth," said Quintero.

Meanwhile, City Councilman Lee Brand questions whether BRT is the solution to Fresno's transportation issues.  The city council voted 4-3 against BRT last week after a lengthy evening meeting extended into morning.

"The message that clearly resonated was that people are concerned about the existing fax service. The availability of it, the timeliness," said Brand.

One rider tells eyewitness news it takes about an hour to travel four miles from Manchester Center to his northwest Fresno home.

City leaders are now going back to the drawing board to draft a new BRT.  Rudd says its still unknown if that plan includes new, bigger buses.  City Councilman Clint Olivier welcomes the idea of a scaled back BRT. 

"No matter if fewer and fewer people are riding it, or more and more are riding it, we have to provide efficient service," said Olivier.

Rudd believes a new BRT proposal will be drafted in the next 30 days.

The City of Fresno acknowledges that even though ridership has declined, FAX exceeds the Federal Transit Administration's minimum daily trip requirement of 3,000 boardings.  Fresno currently has about 4,300 daily boardings along the proposed BRT route, which is one of the reasons Fresno received funding for the project.

*The original story stated total passenger trips in 2012-13 was 8.2 million, down from 10.2 million in 2008-09.  The original numbers accounted for revenue passengers, but not bus transfer passengers and free rides. 
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