More Burqueños than ever are riding the bus. “We are going to have 13 million boardings this calendar year, which will be a record,” said Bruce Rizzieri, Alvarado Transportation Center director. "We have more of Albuquerque riding buses: More generations are using public transit."
Many of the riders—about 44 percent—board the bus on Central somewhere along the 15 miles between 98th Street and Tramway. City planners are trying to figure out how to improve reliability along the heavily used corridor. They've proposed Bus Rapid Transit, a system that runs buses in their own dedicated lanes in the middle of the road where medians are today.
“BRT uses some of the characteristics of light rail,” Rizzieri said. “Some of those rail characteristics are same-level platform stations, off-bus fare purchases and the designated roadways.” A more punctual service will attract regular commuters who can plan on using public transit to get to and from work, Rizzieri said.
At a public meeting at the Loma Linda Community Center, about 40 people showed up to hear proposals from transit planners. Using examples from Cleveland and Eugene, Ore., Rizzieri said that moving the successful Rapid Ride buses out of traffic could greatly improve the reliability of public transportation.
“If the buses are not part of the commuter traffic jams, they can move from point A to point B predictably,” he said. “This reliability attracts more ridership.” He added that a schedule can be posted, and people can rely on it.
A report by InfraConsult looked at the impact of a raised median serving as the path for the BRT. A 9-mile segment from Unser to Louisiana was identified as carrying the bulk of bus ridership. The study recommended a two-lane, slightly elevated designated roadway with center boarding stations for most of this stretch of Central. At minimum, it will cost $64,000 for a half-mile of construction for BRT.
The plan would replace the Rapid Ride lines active on Central. Low-floor buses were recommended to speed up boarding and easily serve the disabled community.
Meeting attendee Tim Waters said, for the most part, public transportation along Central is pretty good. It’s the city’s other routes that need attention, he added. Rizzieri said Albuquerque is considering ways to make improvements to public transit on other roads, too.
The city is spread out over 181 square miles, so that presents a challenge, he said. That’s also why it makes the most sense to use Central as a study area, he added. “We want to plan a coordinated system.” If everything goes as planned, construction could begin in 2015, according to Rizzieri.
Laurel Schillke and her husband Peter said they live along the route and attended meetings in the past about a controversial trolley system. This is a better idea, they agreed.
“It looks promising with its flexibility,” Laurel said.
Rizzieri said many details still need to be worked out. “This is the first round of meetings. After these, we will come back with some options for specific sections of the route,” he said. “We then will have another round of public meetings and by summer, have a financial plan with cost estimates for specific sections.” In the next round of meetings, they’ll discuss where boarding stations could be located. He said there are several different pots of money available for the project through city, state and federal transportation initiatives.
City Councilor Rey Garduño said a Central BRT is a viable idea for the city.
“I think it is wonderful,” Garduño said. “The main thing for me is that we are talking about how do we use existing roadways in better and more efficient ways.” He encourages all residents to attend public discussions and weigh in on the future of public transportation along Central.