ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The end of the month marks one year of Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) bus service, but it got off to a rough start with crash after crash. So, have drivers learned to stay out of the ART lane yet?
The service launched on November 30, 2019, with a crash that first day and then 12 more crashes in the month that followed. That is just counting the cases where other drivers went into the dedicated bus lanes illegally or cut in front of buses in intersections. “When I started, I had a full head of hair. I lost it all in the first month,” joked Albuquerque Transit Director Danny Holcomb. “It was tough. It was very stressful. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect.”
The frequent crashes earned themselves a Twitter account called, “A.R.T.cidents,” and a website dedicated to counting how long it had been since the last crash. However, speed up to today and Albuquerque is approaching one year of ART bus service. KRQE News 13 received data from the city to see if things have gotten any better now that the buses have been around for a while.
The number of crashes involving ART buses and other drivers getting in their way dropped by nearly half after the first month, down to seven in January and seven more in February. Then came the bump in the road no one expected. “COVID-19 sure did put another twist to the project that none of us had anticipated,” said Lawrence Rael, the city’s chief operations officer.
Service stopped in March after the governor asked New Mexicans to stay home. Then, the buses started running again on a limited schedule on June 13. As more people started getting on the road again, there were six crashes in August and six in September.
Even though those numbers are not very low compared to earlier in the year, if you ask an ART bus driver, there is one big difference: the location of the crashes. “When we first started, there was a lot more random stuff that could happen, like someone just decided they want to go to Golden Corral and they just dart in front of you,” ART bus driver Benji Lueck said. “That was kind of problematic but with the introduction of those pin curbs, that has kind of minimized those points.”
Mid-year, the city installed nearly three miles of pin curbs down the middle of Central to minimize points where cars can cross the ART lane to make illegal turns. The city said most of the crashes now are happening in intersections. “Yeah, like this intersection,” Lueck pointed out Central and Lomas. “You just go a little slower through here.”
Lueck said he has been driving for ART since its launch. He said he does not have to honk the horn quite as much now, just a couple of times a day. He hopes other drivers keep an eye out for the giant blue bus. “If you try to cut in front of us it’s like, these things are big and they don’t stop on a dime,” he explained.
The city said it has continued to make adjustments, like realigning the traffic signals to line up just right with the lanes or tweaking the timing of the lights to make sure everyone on the road has a smooth ride. “We’re pretty excited to now have a year under our belt although it has been a very unusual year,” Rael said.
The pandemic has the ART buses running on a limited schedule for now, but the city hopes the rapid transit system will grow both in ridership and in where it can take those riders, eventually getting people to the Sunport even. In total, for all crashes and damage to ART buses, the city said it has spent $216,122 in repairs since ART started running last year.
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