As the cost of driving becomes more and more cumbersome, many Albuquerque residents are deciding to use public transit to get where they need to go.
“With gas at about $3 a gallon, that can get very expensive, whereas [ABQ Ride] offers monthly bus passes for 28 bucks,” says ABQ Ride Director Greg Payne.
The correlation between escalating gas prices and the climbing number of city bus passengers is unmistakable. According to statistics provided by the city, since November 2004, the price of regular unleaded gas has increased by 40 percent in New Mexico. In that same time span, the number of people taking the bus has increased by 41 percent in Albuquerque. According to city reports, ABQ Ride served close to 720,000 people in April of this year, compared to 667,000 in April 2005.
The numbers have implications for the city. Payne is excited about adding more buses to the system, specifically to the line that runs from Central and Coors to Cottonwood Mall. “The demand is there to go from the couple of [Rapid Ride] buses we have running on that line now to having buses run every 20 minutes.” Payne says this increased bus service, which should go into effect later this fall, will cost the city about $900,000 in operating costs. Currently, Payne says there’s about a 40-minute wait for passengers traveling between Cottonwood Mall and Montaño. Payne also adds that the increased bus ridership provides evidence that public transportation projects like the proposed light rail system are important for improving the quality of life for all city residents.
Payne is optimistic that the city will approve a bond issue that would give ABQ Ride $20 million to add 10-12 more Rapid Ride vehicles and to purchase 50 non-Rapid Ride buses to update its fleet, which, Payne says, currently includes some buses that are 20 years old. The bond issue is scheduled to be voted on by the City Council in early June. The bond would also help fund the Central and Coors line project by adding five Rapid Ride vehicles, allowing buses to arrive every 20 minutes as planned. Currently, the Coors and Central line is frequented by two Rapid Ride buses in the morning and two at night.
While he remains zeroed in on the task of adding more buses, in the broader picture, Payne believes the city is not far away from having a public transportation system that we can be truly proud of. “In maybe 10 years time, I think we’ll be able to say Albuquerque has a first-class public transportation system. It definitely is the future; no ifs, ands or buts.”