On November 8, 2019, Mayor Tim Keller announced that after over 2 years of delay, including a lawsuit over the first 21 buses, the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project will begin operations on Saturday, Nov. 30. Keller deemed it “one of the first positive announcements we’ve gotten about this project.” It was in mid-November, 2017, that former Republican Mayor “Boondoggle Berry” dedicated ART project with a photo op, yet only one bus had been delivered at that time just for Berry’s “photo op” victory lap.
The new ART Buses will run on a nine mile stretch of Central Avenue between Unser Blvd on the West Side to Louisiana and Central traveling on dedicated lanes in the middle of central where bus stop platforms have been constructed. No left turns are allowed on the 9-mile route. The ART bus route will replace the existing Rapid Ride “Red” and “Green” lines and will run supposedly every 10 minutes. Keller announce rides will be free through Jan. 1, and $1 per adult thereafter.
On November 5, 2019, the city’s ABQ RIDE Ridership Statistics by Route for Fiscal Year 2018 (July 2017 through June 2018) were released by the Keller Administration. You can read the report here:
The city report published by ABQ RIDE bus service shows a decreasing number of riders boarding buses in total and a decrease in ridership on some of the city’s bus system’s most popular routes. According to the statistics compiled by ABQ Ride for Rapid Ride buses, ridership fell from 1.91 million total riders on all Rapid Ride routes in FY 2017, to 1.65 million total riders on all Rapid Ride routes in FY 2018.
On the popular Route 66 bus across Central Avenue, the total number of riders fell from 2.26 million total riders in FY 2017, to 2.06 million total riders in FY 2018. Comparing the data between FY 2016 and FY 2018, the ridership decline is especially noticeable. In FY 2016 (July 2015-June 2016), ABQ Ride counted 11.20 million riders on all Rapid Ride and regular routes.
In FY 2018 (July 2017-June 2018) ABQ Ride counted 9.47 million riders on all Rapid Ride and regular routes.
Referring to the comparison between Fiscal Year 2018 and Fiscal Year 2017 data, Rick DeReyes, spokesman for ABQ Ride had this to say about the report:
“We had the Rapid Ride routes overall decrease about 15 percent ridership over the previous year, we had the Route 66 decrease in ridership about 9 percent. … We’re looking at decreases all over the country in ridership in most major cities. … Especially in the southwestern cities like Denver and Phoenix, comparable cities, but we’re talking about El Paso, Lubbock, Tucson, some of those cities as well.”
Reyes added that the city thinks low gas prices and ART construction on Central were in part to blame but said there are other factors. ABQ RIDE still thinks ART itself will get more people riding the bus once the service launches.
“Once we get a chance to get people to realize how much more timely that system will be, we’re hoping that people will be attracted to that” said DeReyes.
According to a news report, the city has started the process of reviewing the entire bus route system to see what can be changed to increase ridership. The problem with ART is that it is a specialized bus route that cannot be moved, changed or altered in any way because of the platforms built in the middle of Central.
On November 13, 2019, the online news publication ABQ Reports published article on bus ridership. Following are excerpts on the articlce:
“ABQ bus ridership plunges again; down 7.5 percent this year. Minus 31 percent since 2012”
November 13, 2019
By: Dennis Domrzalski
“Bus ridership in Albuquerque continues to fall and fall and fall and fall.
In the first nine months of this year, boardings on the city’s fixed-route buses were down 7.5 percent over the same period in 2018. And they’re down a whopping and stunning 31 percent since 2012 when bus ridership in the city peaked.
And while people continue to abandon the bus system, its taxpayer-funded budget continues to increase. ABQRide’s budget has grown by 16.8 percent since 2013.
Perhaps even more alarming is the the fact that the percentage of the bus system’s operating expenses that comes from fares continues to shrink. In 2017, that percentage, known as the Farebox Recovery Ratio, was 7 percent, the lowest of any public transit system in the region, and quite possibly the lowest of any major public transit agency in the nation.
And it appears that the transit department might ignore a resolution passed by the Albuquerque City Council in 2015 that it reach a Farebox Recovery ratio of 25 percent by June 30, 2022. Getting to a 25 percent FRR would involve raising fares—one dollar now for most rides—but ABQRide spokesman Rick De Reyes says the agency has no plans in the foreseeable future to raise fares.”
HIGLIGHTS OF STATISTICS REPORTED:
The following statistics are reflected in graphs published in the ABQ Reports article:
Boardings have dropped every year since 2012 and they are now down by 31%.
Bus usage has fallen since 2012 with boarding’s down this year by 3 million from the same period in 2012.
There is a decline in ABQRide’s Farebox Recovery Ratio reflecting 10% decline in 2013 and 7% in 2017.
Bus system’s fare revenues are down from $4.5 million from fares in 2013 to $3.6 million in 2017.
The bus system’s yearly operating budget is $52 million a year and expenses continue to grow while ridership declines.
You can review the entire ABQ Report article with graph here:
In a follow up story written by reporter Dennis Domrzalski and published by ABQ Reports on November 18, it was reported that very few, or almost no one, uses the Albuquerque bus transit system. According to the United states Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, a meager 1.7% of working-age people in the Albuquerque area use public transit to commute to work while 89.5% take cars or trucks to commute to work.
According to the census, there are 322,822 working-age people and mere 4,857 of those people, or 1.5%, walked to work, and 6,150, or 1.9% found some other way to get to their jobs. In other words, the statistics reflect that 98.3% of the working-age people in the Albuquerque area do not use public transit to get to work all the while the city’s bus system keeps growing despite falling ridership.
You can read the full ABQ Report and review statistical graphs here:
REASONS FOR DECLINE
ABQ Ride spokesman Rick De Reyes noted two reasons for the decline in ridership:
“Gas prices have been low for an unprecedented amount of time during the past 20 years and auto sales are up the past six years. That’s allowed more people to afford to drive to and from work and attractions.”
According to De Reyes, Mayor Keller has asked the he Transit Department to evaluate the distribution of the city’s bus service to make sure it’s meeting the public’s expectations for service. Fares have not been raised since 2002 and the city has no plans in the foreseeable future to raise fares.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
According to the ABQReports, the city has started the process of reviewing the entire bus route system to see what can be changed to increase ridership. The problem with ART is that it is a specialized bus route that cannot be moved, changed or altered in any way because of the platforms built in the middle of Central.
Within the first two years of operation of ART, the city should find out if ART is a success and take the time and make an effort to develop a “back up” plan should bus ridership continue to drop and the ART Project is the failure so many believe it is or will be.
ALTERNATIVE USE SOLUTION PROPOSED
Although the financial cost of ART was $135 million, it did not come out of the city’s coffers. The funding was overwhelmingly from federal grants from the Federal Transportation Department. The real loss the city sustained is the destruction of the character of central and Route 66. Mayor Tim Keller when refusing to stop the project said it would cost upwards of $200,000,000 million to restore central to its original state. The argument made by Keller was highly doubtful without him providing how that figure was arrived at and it also presumed the bus stop platforms would have to be removed.
One solution to consider is to get rid of the dedicated bus lanes and return Central to the two-lane traffic it was in both directions and restore the 350 lost parking spaces on Central and find an alternative use for the bus station platforms. The white “elephant canopies” should be removed and the platforms stripped barren. An alternative use for the platforms that blends into the neighborhood architecture needs to be found. Such alternative use could be large sculptures to commemorate route 66, neon signage reminiscent of the 1950s and Route 66’s heyday or even planters for trees and nighttime lighting.
The $50,000 BURQUE sculpture which now sits on a flat bed at the Rio Grande zoo after removed from civic center could be placed on one of the platforms as a permanent fixture. Designed sculptures could carry the theme of the platform’s locations, such as the Nob Hill platform, the UNM platform across the street from the Frontier Restaurant and the Old Town area platform.
The funding could have easily come from the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) with general obligation bonds placed on the November 5 ballot for voter approval, where $127 million in bonds were approved. Funding could also come from the “Art In Public Places” fund mandated for development.
Work on rededicating the bus platforms for other usage would not take as much time nor as much construction and no tearing up central the way ART did.
The $135 million ART Bus project was built on the philosophy “if we build it, people will use it”. Given the continuing plunge in bus ridership, it is more likely than not ART is already an obsolete project that no one will use.
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