The number of people crossing from Ciudad Juárez into El Paso declined sharply in the past year as wait times increased at international bridges, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

The number of people driving or walking northbound across El Paso international bridges fell 9 percent in fiscal year 2019 compared to the prior year. That ended seven straight years of increased crossings. Federal fiscal years run from October to September.

The biggest impact was in people driving across international bridges. The number of people crossing in passenger cars dropped by 15 percent, according to CBP data, to just over 19 million. 

Some of the vehicle passenger loss was offset by a 9 percent increase in pedestrian crossings, likely caused by students and shoppers deciding to walk into El Paso because pedestrian lines weren’t as long as vehicle lines. The number of pedestrians crossing into El Paso was 7.7 million, the highest number in a decade.

The number of vehicle crossings began sharply declining in April, when Customs and Border Protection began moving officers off of bridges to help Border Patrol agents deal with increasing numbers of detained migrants. The number of vehicle passengers crossing El Paso bridges that month was a third lower than in April 2018.

The declines continued through the end of the fiscal year. 

El Paso’s retail economy relies heavily on Mexican shoppers, but it’s not clear that bridge crossing challenges impacted sales. El Paso’s city sales tax collections are up 6 percent in 2019 over the prior year, according to the Texas comptroller’s office.

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.