I wonder if Mayor Keller will take the bus to the press conference whose beginning I await with the same sense of jaded optimism many of my peers feel when thinking about the ART project. I wonder if the mayor will appear, exiting the number 766 bus, in the heart of Uptown for Crissakes, to triumphantly declare the long-awaited service a-go. Theoretically, he could have caught the bus by taking a short walk from his office to the nearest stop, I reckon. Further, the lately lambasted dream-child of former Mayor Richard Berry may finally be nearing completion. Imagine that. Or don’t.
Keller had some more advice for citizens, telling everyone gathered that we should all think about, “how as a city we are going to adjust and adapt to this project as it slowly comes on line. It is going to take years for our city to, essentially, learn to drive with this project. It’s just a reality.”
Better yet, imagine conveniently and efficiently taking one of the current buses attached to ABQ Ride back home to the far NE Heights or the deep North Valley from the beautiful and well-designed terminal at Uptown where the mayor is about to speak. Unless you’ve got a couple of hours to kill, that ain’t happening. And if you happen to be an income-restricted, working class, daily rider anyway, then God bless you for having to sit out in the middle of this damned summertime heat while you wait for buses that only come once every 30 minutes.
Anyway, Keller’s usually late for these things, and today is no exception. Even the closely coifed, beautifully appointed and bourgeois-bound teevee media and government office folks are starting to melt down when Keller suddenly appears with his entourage and walks confidently toward the podium that an assistant had erected only minutes before.
The mayor is here to talk about ART. No, it’s not quite ready to go. Don’t laugh and please don’t cry. According to the mayor of the city of Albuquerque, we are all positively moving closer to the day when ART will operate in El Duque.
Keller began his remarks by reminding the press and therefore the citizens who view the press as an important part of the democratic communication process, that we are all in this together. The mayor then stated he had some relatively new and important news to share.
The first of the updates has to do with funding for the project. When the mass transit debacle was first proposed and approved, it was done so with the inclusion of a substantial grant from the Federal Transit Authority shaping the plans. A grant from a program called Small Starts, valued at about $75 million, was mentioned but never actually acquired by the original planners in the Berry administration. However, the Keller administration learned this week that the FTA has approved funding in the amount of $14 million for ART. Keller says this money is from a different source than the Small Starts grant, which is still awaiting federal approval.
The mayor noted that his administration is in constant contact with the transit authority administration and that the city continues to meet criteria established for the grant, consequently, “we may or may not get the funding.” City officials are also working in tandem with the FTA on establishing a deadline for funding confirmation, so that local government has time to develop and implement economic contingency plans.
Keller continued his remarks on ART funding by reminding citizens that all of the money being discussed with regards to funding the project has already been spent—ART has been built and mostly equipped—and any money received will be used to reimburse the city for money it previously paid Bradbury Stamm, the main ART contractor.
Because a large chunk of feria for ART remains to be repaid by federal funding, some new capital outlay projects may be delayed, Keller’s administration has noted, but because it has been built and is paid for, the city owns the project and all its accouterments, for better or for worse. And those canopied stops are pretty cool, eh carnales?
Before handing off the news conference to City Transit Director Bernie Toon, Keller had some more advice for citizens, telling everyone gathered that we should all think about, “how as a city we are going to adjust and adapt to this project as it slowly comes on line. It is going to take years for our city to, essentially, learn to drive with this project. It’s just a reality.” Bus drivers are going to start training on the main ART route at the end of July, Keller said.
Director Toon concurred, providing a narrative of a policy that will manifest by providing extensive training to busmen taking the ART route under task. He affirmed that a key element to establishing service involves driver familiarity with the electric buses the city bought for the project. “We’re beginning driver training in the ART corridor, starting on July 27,” he continued, emphasizing the need for safe operation of the new system of buses, machinery, computers and people.
Once the training starts, Toon advised, local law enforcement agents will begin actively looking for vehicles that try to circumvent or ignore the new rules of the road noting that, “APD will especially be looking for drivers that cross or occupy the ART lanes.” Bus operators will also be thorougly trained about the meanings and use of the new symbols used in traffic signals associated with the project. The driver training program will last 14 weeks, the director added.
The driver training program will also be used to provide performance data about the new electric buses, which have not seen much use beyond basic testing; they haven’t been driven to a significant degree since arriving, Toon told the press in his closing remarks before reminding consumers and drivers to familiarize themselves with the new signal system, called HAWK, at a city webpage devoted to the system of lights and symbols Burqueños will use to navigate through ART: cabq.
Finally Burque’s COO, the estimable Lawrence Rael, gave citizens an update on efforts to make sure the project’s buses were outfitted with top-notch batteries that maintained a charge; the original plan had specifications that showed buses would get about 275 miles per charge.
In reality, city scientists have shown the buses only get 177 miles per charge. Consequently, Rael’s update also comprised a solution to this basic problem of economy: a review of plans to build more charging units for ART—gratefully designed, engineered and paid for by bus manufacturer Build Your Dreams—to ensure the project’s operation at the highest efficiency possible (when it all comes together of course, probably this winter, ese).
The additional charging stations will be built at the Uptown stop, at the ART stop at Coors Blvd., and Central Ave. and at Tramway Blvd., and Wenonah St. Rael believes this will increase the overall success of the project. Construction on the charging stations will begin within the next two months and Rael hopes to see the new stations operational “by late fall.”
After all was said and done, Mayor Keller stepped forward to say he has been trying to find a path forward for ART for some time. He sees the pieces that came together this week as hopeful developments. He said he wanted to remind folks that “breaking up with BYD, scraping the whole thing was a $200 million hit.”
How that potential loss compares to the economic shock already felt by small business owners along the ART route remains to be seen; hopefully by the time the system becomes operational during the winter—Keller’s latest estimate for ART functionality—the city and its leadership team, Council included, will have found a way to support those most impacted by Berry’s fever dream.