ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque’s City Council just passed a pilot program for zero bus fares, but some riders say the cost is not the reason why fewer people are riding. Residents who rely on city buses say while paying no money to ride will be great, it’s not enough to offset the issues of buses running late on already-limited schedules.
“I hereby challenge the city council to stop driving for the next week and learn firsthand why bus ridership is low,” said one local during the council’s public comment period. “What our system lacks is hours and frequency. Make note of how often you’ll have to call a ride because the buses fail this week.”
Others pointed out that fixing run times will make the buses more accessible to people as the pilot program could bring a boost in ridership. One local is part of the refugee community and says they needed to attend a high school that specializes in refugee and immigrant students learning English, but the bus system made it hard to get there on time.
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“I was having trouble to get to school on time because of not having buses and also not having access to buses that are on time,” they told councilors during the meeting. “I had to take two buses from Montgomery to San Mateo and San Mateo to Central to Highland High School and I had over a hundred tardies for just one year.”
Councilor Pat Davis was a big supporter of the boost to the city’s transit system. He says the right school may not always be in your neighborhood, so transit options are important.
“The refugee program is at Highland High School, which makes sense in the middle of the International District, but if you don’t live in that neighborhood, if you live on the Westside or in the Heights like the student we heard last night, you rely on city buses to get you to your program,” said Davis. “We often think of public transportation as those of us who want to go to the grocery store or go to work, but it means an awful lot, especially for immigrants and young people who need specialized services that APS doesn’t provide door-to-door transportation for.”
The city’s bus schedule also saw flaws during COVID-19 when many were taking on overnight jobs in cleaning and other fields. Davis says the hope is as more people take advantage of the free fares, they’ll get more federal funding to increase routes and buses.
“Those folks, often, were out of work because the bus service stopped at 10 or 11 o’clock at night, just as their work began,” said Davis. “Letting people get to where they need to be, makes their lives better.”
Tuesday, the city’s Transit Department said they’re starting a route study within the next few months — that will run through 2023 — and plan to take in public input. The department originally announced plans for a study earlier this summer to study route efficiency. At the time, they said their biggest issue was a shortage of about 70 drivers. Now, that number is up to 80 openings.