Tri-Rail seeing double-digit ridership declines
By Risa Polansky
Tri-Rail ridership has seen double-digit deceleration for four months running compared to last year, in part reflecting today's low gas prices and high unemployment.
The most recent count shows an average 11,559 rode the commuter rail system weekdays last month, down 20.7% from August last year.
July brought this year's biggest drop so far: 10,605 riders weekdays on average, down 29.9% from July 2008.
But looking at this year compared to last, "you're comparing it to one of the highest growth spurts we've ever had," said Joseph Giulietti, executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which runs Tri-Rail.
Last year, when gas prices hit all-time highs, the tri-county rail line enjoyed record-breaking ridership — 17,241 people rode last Sept. 18, second-highest day ever.
"Even though we're dropping right now… we really are still up at least 10% over the prior year before that," Mr. Giulietti noted. "So our numbers are still up, just not as high as we were."
Though July was Tri-Rail's worst month this year compared to last, ridership was actually up 2.6% from July 2007.
August ridership this year exceeded 2007 numbers by nearly .2%.
Though last year's high numbers skew year-over-year comparison, low gas prices have driven folks back to their cars in recent months, and high unemployment means fewer commuters, Mr. Giulietti said.
Other factors that could be driving riders away: since May, Tri-Rail has hiked prices 25% and changed train schedules, Broward and Palm Beach counties began charging to transfer from Tri-Rail to buses, and Miami-Dade is considering the same for transfers to Metrorail.