Rail Runner Math Puzzle

I’ve never been very good at math so help me out on this one. The Rail Runner’s website says that its 200,000 rider was celebrated on October 13. The Rail Runner has run on weekdays since July 14 (except for Labor day). That means it took 64 days of train rides before the 200 thousandth rider was celebrated (by counting all the weekdays from July 14 until October 13). Are you with me so far?
This article in the Albuquerque Journal quotes Lawrence Rael as saying that during the 3 and one-half month free trial period the Rail Runner was averaging 1500 riders per day. By counting all the weekdays until November 1 (when the free rides ended), we get 75 weekdays of free rides. But if I multiply the number of days (75) by Raels 1500 riders per day average I only get 112,500 riders during the entire free ride period. So here’s the puzzle: how can the Rail Runner celebrate it 200,000th rider on October 13 when only 112,500 riders had taken the train through October 31?
Here’s another one for extra credit: How can the Rail Runner be averaging only 1500 riders per day during the free ride period when 200,000 riders had taken the train by October 13? By my calculation that is 3,125 riders per day (200,000 divided by 64 days). Where have I gone wrong?
I wonder if this math puzzle arises from a later statement by Rael that ridership is now down to 800 to 1200 riders per day. It doesn’t look so bad if ridership goes from 15 hundred down to 8 to 12 hunderd per day. But how does it feel to explain a decrease that goes from over 3,100 down to 8 to 12 hundred per day? Doesn’t that look like ridership is down some 62 to 74 percent!? Inquiring minds want to know.

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3 Replies to “Rail Runner Math Puzzle”

  1. I am with you on this one Harry, but I think the Rail Runner folks are counting all the folks they ferried to the wine festival in Bernalillo and the balloon fiesta in their ridership data. This is technically accurate counting by them, but they again are not being completely honest.
    Any free shuttle service to avoid traffic and parking fees to these major events is going to be popular…the train just happens to pass nearby.

  2. The 800 to 1,200 per day probably is round trip riders, or 1,600 to 2,400 daily “trips.” This would be consistent with the numbers they are reporting. It is standard practice to count ALL passengers, whether to special events or not, and this is the most honest way, FYI.
    It is not unusual for new rail systems to have a surge of ridership as people “try out” the system, then experience declines in ridership as the “joyriding” tapers off. Once they extend service to the south, ridership should then increase again, I would expect to the range of 5,000 to 7,000 daily trips. This would be commensurate with the level of investment in the system, and well within the range of cost-effectiveness that is confirmed by research by various credible transit experts from around the world.
    Just for a comparision, the Metrolink commuter rail system in Southern California has a total capital investment of about $2.0 billion to carry about 1,000,000 daily passenger miles (40,000 daily riders). That is a capital investment of about $2,000 per daily passenger mile, which is on the low side for these things (The LA “Blue Line” light rail route is about $3,000 for this measure in 2006 dollars, and roughly $8,000 in 2006 dollars for the LA Red Line Subway…the Salta Lake City TRAX orginal light rail line comes out about $2,000 to $2,500 in this measure.)
    If Rail Runner carries 5,000 daily riders between Belen (when extended southward) and Bernallio an average trip length of 20 miles, the $150-$200 million+/- capital investment cost, so far, comes out to about $1,500 to $2,000 per daily passenger mile. This would be a remarkable performance considering the overall low density of the service area and the small size (22,000 jobs+/-) of downtown Albuquerque.
    The additional $200 million to get to Santa Fe appears to be well within reason as well. If this additional 60 miles or so carries 3,000 daily passengers–virtually all over the entire length north of Bernallilo, then the additional capital investment may decline to $1,000 or less per daily passenger mile carried.
    (On request, I can supply you a research report on the subject of minimum rail volumes relative to investment; not that I expect to influence the RGF’s “a priori” anti-transit biases and cockeyed, ideologically-based misunderstandings of transportation!)

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