In late November 2017, Mayor Richard Berry took the ceremonial first ride on the city's Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) electric bus system. Now, nearly two years later, city officials say the buses will finally begin running next week.
Two years ago, the project finally seemed to be coming to an end, and the city was offering free electric bus rides to and from the Albuquerque BioPark’s River of Lights event to celebrate its supposed completion. Residents were told to expect construction to be completed before the next January and the route to be open before the spring. For months, the proposed ART system had become a major point of contention discussed in the news and at city meetings.
Those promises fizzled, however. Berry left office and was replaced by Mayor Tim Keller, whose team identified a number of mechanical issues with the buses and other problems with the general project. Berry's team had promised $75 million in federal funding to compensate the line's construction, but Keller's team discovered that those funds were not guaranteed at all.
According to Albuquerque Business First, Keller addressed these issues during a press conference held in his first month in office, calling the project “a bit of a lemon.” The mayor said that due to the mechanical and logistical problems, city leaders had no way of knowing how long it would be before the buses ran.
Over the next year, the city would address construction and federal funding issues, but mechanical issues with the buses themselves continued to plague the project. The city sued Chinese bus manufacturer BYD (Build Your Dreams) over breach of contract in December 2018, and the project was placed on hold until a settlement could be reached in May 2019. The city ended its contract with BYD—and its plans for an all-electric bus route—and was free to order 20 diesel buses from New Flyer of America.
But the city has finally brought the ART project together, and it's celebrating with free rides. Officials say the buses will be up and running on Central Avenue, between Louisiana and Coors Boulevard, on Nov. 30 with free rides until Dec. 31. Riders must pay $1 starting Jan. 1.
The new buses will be able to carry up to 42 seated passengers at a time but are also equipped to carry “standees,” giving the vehicles a passenger capacity of 120. They will include wheelchair securement, passenger counters and six bike racks on the inside. The city has spent the last few months training 225 bus drivers to operate the new vehicles.
Law enforcement officials say officers will be issuing warnings to motorists driving in or crossing the bus lanes beginning Nov. 30. Police will begin issuing $80 fines for the offense beginning in January.