Sun Sets on Weekend Rail Discounts
Reported reasons vary, but RailRunner Express weekend fares appear due for a $2 increase. The change will make weekend fares the same as weekday fares.
New Mexico Dept. of Transportation announced Jan. 25 the weekend trains will continue to roll between Santa Fe and Albuquerque but did not at that time announce a weekend fair increase. Reports of the fare increase apparently reached the public when the Santa Fe New Mexican broke the story in its Saturday edition.
Officials at the NMDOT reported on Jan. 25 the department “will take $750,000 from Surface Transportation Flexible Federal Funds and convert to Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Funds." Rio Metro Regional Transit District officials said they would cut another $250,000 from their other expenses to keep the weekend trains rolling.
The funding shift followed a vote earlier in the month by the Rio Metro Regional Transit District to end weekend service unless train operators found a way to close a gap between income and expenses. The shortfall was “the direct result of the national recession,” NMDOT officials reported, citing similar revenue gaps in public transit systems across the country.
Recession shortfalls nationwide
The American Public Transit Association reported in June that 89 percent of public transit systems nationwide had increased fares or cut service. Among those that cut back service about two-thirds cut or cut back off-peak service and almost half have reduced the range of areas public transit serves.
Eight out of 10 transit systems reported declining revenues from state, local or regional sources. The average decline in revenue was more than 20 percent.The Association asked Congress to provide financial relief as part of efforts to reduce carbon emissions worldwide, and as part of public transportation funding in an ammendment to a war-funding bill.
The New Mexican's report, said Railrunner transit marketing coordinator said Jay Faught attributed the fair increase to a Federal Transit Administration rule and not to the budget shortfall. A report in the Victoria Advocate attributed the weekend fare adjustment to the budget shortfall. That report also included Faught’s statement that the increase was to meet federal rules, and not related to the recession-induced shortfall.
Shortfall follows quick startup
Budget woes aside, the Railrunner has proven to be a popular carrier for New Mexico travelers since it started service and extended service to Santa Fe in December, 2008. The train service to Albuqeurque at first offered free rides to riders on the Santa Fe and Belin trips, along with free admission to museums along the corridor. The free-rides ended in March.
Train officials announced the start of Sunday train service for Memorial Day last year. New Mexico Business Weekly reported the trains logged record ridership over the labor day weekend. Railrunner officials in June announced the train logged two million riders during it’s first three years of service. At that time, train officials said the Railrunner Express had been the fastest startup of a commuter train service in the past 20 years.
The Rio Metro Regional Transit District took over train management from the NMDOT in April.
History of Railrunner Express development New Mexico Dept. of Transportation. Revised Dec. 2009.
Challenge of State and Local Funding Constraints on Transit Systems: Effects on Service Fares, Employment and Ridership American Public Transit Association, June, 2009.