14.4 is the percentage by which New Mexico Rail Runner Express use increased from April 2010 to April 2011.
35 is the percentage by which Santa Fe gas prices increased over the same period.
" I definitely think skyrocketing gas prices are a factor. The interesting thing is that, in the past, once the gas prices
started to level off, we didn’t see ridership drop off to previous levels. It appears that some of the people who finally tried the Rail Runner because of high gas prices indeed stay riding the train after gas prices start to decrease."
—Augusta Meyers, spokeswoman for the Mid-Region Council of Governments
Riding public transportation is habit-forming; at least, that's what its advocates hope. There's the opportunity to multitask and reduce stress, not to mention the potential for napping, American Public Transportation Association spokesman Mantill Williams says.
"When gas prices go down, you still hold on to the majority of those riders…once they change their routine, they find not only do they have that financial benefit where they save money, but they discover some other benefits."
Scott Bogren, spokesman for the Community Transportation Association of America, says it's not possible to predict with certainty what will happen when gas prices come back down because the situation is significantly different from the last gas price hike. In 2008, gas prices plummeted steeply, but they're not predicted to change as rapidly this time.
Ticket sales aren't the best way to measure the success of a transit system anyway, Bogren argues. The growth of businesses like coffee shops near train stations, and effects that can't be quantified, such as clean air, are more significant.
Williams agrees that public transportation benefits local economies in many indirect ways; an estimated $4 is put into local economies for each dollar spent on fare, he says.
“You want to maintain your public transportation,” Williams says. “It’s something you want to invest even more in because you are truly investing in your economy, investing in people’s ability to get to those places where they can patronize some of those businesses.”