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Albuquerque transit offers ‘free rides’ while ridership is at nearly half of pre-pandemic levels

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(The Center Square) – The City of Albuquerque is continuing free fares while ridership is still half of what it was before the pandemic.

Several transit agencies across the country have eliminated fares to attract more riders, but as other agencies have seen, these programs come at a cost. The city of Albuquerque transport agency, ABQ RIDE, collected $3.4 million in fares in 2019 before the pandemic, according to the Federal Transit Administration report.

In November 2023, the Albuquerque city council passed a permanent zero-fare program, making it one of the largest cities to introduce free fares.

“Since the Zero Fare Pilot Program began, we have seen the positive impact it has had on the lives of our neighbors, friends, and visitors getting around town,” said Mayor Tim Keller at the time of the announcement. “Zero Fares is one example of how Albuquerque is paving the way for cities nationwide to implement equity-based initiatives that benefit everyone.”

Together for Brothers, a racial justice-focused community organizing group that pushed for the Zero Fare program alongside labor unions and racial, economic, and environmental groups that argue “transit equity is a race and class equity issue,” according to inequality.org.

The equity-based initiative is claimed to be a success by the city, and while the services are zero cost to riders, ridership is still at half of what it was before the pandemic, with 9.5 million rides recorded in 2018 dropping in 2019 to 8.7 million reported rides, followed by another drop in 2021 with a total of 3 million rides. Since then, the transit agency has seen a slight increase in ridership, with 4.5 million reported rides in 2023.

Operating expenses increased over the same time frame, from $59.5 million reported in 2018 to $67.1 million in 2019. However, operating expenses have slowly decreased since before the pandemic, with a reported $61.6 million in operating expenses reported in 2023.

The city did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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