If you're like most Albuquerqueans, you probably don't ride the bus. For years folks have complained that they're rarely on time. They're sometimes filled with characters that, although interesting to read about in the latest dime-store novel, aren't the sort you want to find lurking over your shoulder while reading said novel. A rather disappointing way to start one's day.
It's a shame, because a simple thing like riding the bus can make a huge difference not only on an environmental level, but also in terms of the way a community operates. In areas where bus ridership is high, numerous transportation studies have shown lower traffic death rates, along with benefits such as improved economy along bus lines and lowered crime rates due to more pedestrian traffic. Taking advantage of good public transportation seems to be a primary factor in the perceptions of a city. Too bad we don't have good public transportation.
Well, things are about to change. Most city residents haven't heard about the new bus rapid transit system that will be hitting the streets this coming Dec. 11 along Central, even though it is a step that will revolutionize public transportation in Albuquerque. Some of you may have heard about the impending light rail systems, cleverly named the Red and Green Chile lines, on which construction is expected to begin in 2006-2007. The bus rapid transit system, aptly named Rapid Ride, is step one in the conversion over to light rail, essentially being a light rail system on wheels.
Bus rapid transit kicks butt. It's a system that gets people where they need to go faster, more efficiently and much more enjoyably. They're fully loaded with electronic technology and run on hybrid diesel/electric engines. In fact, they run almost completely on electricity, only falling back on their diesel supply when starting and going up hill. That makes them the cleanest buses available today—anywhere.
The new buses, all 12 of which are already housed in the city transit department, are 60 feet long and articulated (also known as the buses with the weird accordion thing in the middle), and can hold up to 86 passengers standing, and 54 to 56 sitting. They come equipped with all sorts of technology that is intended to not only help the buses get where they need to be when they need to be there, but also make the journey to their (and your) destinations more comfortable (and much, much faster).
One of the little items that comes standard with the buses is an automatic passenger counter, along with a global positioning system (GPS). This means that the people watching over the buses will be able to know where the high priority sites are, as well as make sure that buses are making their stops on time. The buses also have signal priority, one of the fun features that ensures they will be much faster and more reliable than our current buses. Signal priority means that the buses will be able to shorten red lights and lengthen green lights—a power that many of us wish we possessed while coasting along Central during rush hour. The buses are also designed with a lowered floor and a ramp for wheelchair access; a typically European bus feature which makes loading and unloading much more efficient.
Rapid Ride stations are also pretty nifty. Built in a Pueblo-Deco style, complete with Route 66-esque neon accents, they will be sheltered and include LED displays that will let passengers know when the next bus will arrive. The stations are included in a program for businesses, wherein businesses located close to the stations can purchase the naming rights to a station and thereby engage in some pretty effective marketing, since all stations are visibly named and are announced with every stop.
Rapid Ride buses will run along Central from Unser all the way to Wyoming, over to the shopping mall district, and then back to Central and down to Unser again. This route provides service to landmarks such as the Bio Park, Old Town, Downtown, Presbyterian Hospital, the University of New Mexico, Nob Hill, Expo New Mexico, the new Talin International Market, Los Altos Golf Course/Skate Park, and the Uptown shopping district. The buses also provide an alternative route to the Westside; something that will come in very handy in the coming months as construction on Coors and I-40 begins.
The new bus system will run every 10 minutes from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and will cost the same as the current bus system. In fact, transfers between bus systems are as simple as transfers between the current buses—you can use the same ticket anywhere in the city. The current buses will continue to run as they have before, but will drop down in frequency from every 10 minutes to every 15 minutes during the week, and weekend schedules will remain unchanged. The current buses are remaining in place along Central because the new buses only stop every mile. This means that people can take the Rapid Ride most of their way, and then transfer to a basic bus for the remainder of their journey, if needed. Free park and ride services will also be available; parking lots are to be constructed in several key locations along the Central Corridor.
One of the main goals of the city on this project is to not only improve the perception of public transportation in Albuquerque, but also "to get people used to the idea of what rail might be like," says Bill Slauson, project manager for Rapid Ride. Slauson stated that "the FTA (Federal Transit Administration) is probably looking at this as a good indicator as to how Albuquerque perceives what a true rail system would look like or what the ridership indicators might be." This positive perception, in turn, translates to better prospects of obtaining federal transportation dollars to enrich the local system.
The new rapid transit bus system is a huge stepping stone for Albuquerque citizens. It has the potential to reduce traffic congestion, get more people on the sidewalks instead of on the roads, and generally improve the makeup of the city. With effective transportation the inclination for urban sprawl could subside, which should be a huge incentive for all of us. And, in addition to all of the obvious benefits of riding an efficient means of good public transit such as getting to work faster, paying less for your car, and improving the perceptions of the city, riding the bus also means that you get to help the environment (come on, you live in Albuquerque, you've got to care at least a little about the fate of the world).
So this coming December you can do yourself, your community, and your environment a favor: Ride the bus.