Live Nerd Blog: A Day With Albuquerque Rapid Transit

6:04 P.M.

At meeting and this is Twitter territory. You can find me @better_burque

2:48 P.M.

The eternal City Council meeting question: How late can I show up and still be there for the “good part”? The more smart ass among you have probably already yelled “NEVER!” Looking at the agenda, the actual discussion of ART is scheduled quite late in the session. Although “economic development discussion” is set before public comments, I think I’ll miss the discussion and try to make it right when public comments start….around 5:45 or so (I’m guessing.)

In other words, I have time for a nap.


11:30 A.M.

Well that didn’t take long. A bit more looking around has uncovered something akin to what we’re looking for. Deep in the “resources” page is a link to a document with the nursery school-easy name of  ABQ_TechMemo_CentralAvenue June 22-2015.pdf. Maybe giving these links easier names would be in brtabq’s interest. That said, the 21-page technical memo does a good job of almost bringing end users into a full understanding of how the ART ridership estimates were determined. While the memo doesn’t give us the input data itself, it does a good job of explaining STOPS and a pretty good job of indicating the ridership projections STOPS outputted.

It is my natural expectation that everyone in Albuquerque read this report by 5:00 this evening. Thank you for your cooperation, citizens of Burque.

So what does the memo state in terms of expected ridership? The answer appears on page 16 in a handy-dandy table that would make a lovely addition to tonight’s City Council festivities:

artvnoart“No Build” means no ART and the existing service, “Build” means ART. The STOPS estimate has about 5,200 more people riding ART, with about 2,300 of those coming from those currently riding the 66 Bus. Hence, just under 3,000 new riders are expected. The time frame is pretty much immediate.

The upshot is this: The figures put out by in promotional materials are bullshit. 

Instead, brtabq should be telling us that we can expect a 28% increase in Central corridor ridership with ART  (10,530 to 13,470) , resulting in an overall ABQ Ride boarding increase of 5.5% (53,450 to 56,390).

Now, does this bullshit detection mean we shouldn’t support ART? No. It only conforms to the rather widespread contention that brtabq has done a piss-poor job of  “selling” ART. Better Burque contends further that this piss-poor job has been largely due to brtabq underestimating the intelligence of ABQ residents and tending to overly respond to attacks instead of fully explaining ART benefits.

Just one example of this: If I read the various documents correctly, ABQ Ride will buy 18 new buses to implement ART. Such buses cost about a million per bus, once equipped with the bells/whistle ART promises (wi-fi, traffic signal prioritization, etc.). That’s $18m out of a $119m (estimated) total budget. That’s a big chunk of change, and such budget detail is obviously significant, yet I don’t believe the cost of buses been presented at any public meeting, or in any “fact sheet.”

The process has been dumbed down and that’s a real shame. Tonight will almost certainly be no exception. Can you sense a bit of dread as I ponder attending tonight’s meeting?


9:57 A.M., March 21, 2016

As you probably already know from the constant TV ads during “March Madness,” Albuquerque City Council is performing some form of political ceremonial rite tonight around the proposed bus rapid transit system known as ART. Okay, I made up the constant TV ads, but chances are you know this aspect of tonight’s City Council agenda. And how often do you know anything about an ABQ City Council agenda, typical Burquean? So it’s a big deal.

Dan McKay at the Journal this morning has a “Tale of the Tape” before tonight’s fight. While it brings up many good points and questions, perhaps none are as thought-provoking as the question of future ridership:

Who’s going to ride it?

This is a major point of contention in the debate. Opponents don’t believe the service will be different enough from Rapid Ride to attract new riders.

The city says the faster, more reliable service will draw new riders, just as Rapid Ride did when it came online a dozen years ago. The city says a model developed by Federal Transit Administration projects daily ridership of about 15,750 on ART, compared with about 8,500 a day on Rapid Ride now.

Yeah, this seems to be what Frank Zappa called the “crux of the biscuit.” If implemented, will ART come anywhere close to doubling that of the current Rapid Ride? Easy question, incredibly complicated answer, of course. One teeny-weeny, and frankly unnecessary, complication is that sponsors of the project keep changing the purported numbers and time frame:

So what is the actual ridership goal and how fast are we expected to get there? Answer: There’s an “app” for that.

Mentioned frequently in both news reports and ART promotional materials is a statistical model from the Federal Transit Administration. This model is called “STOPS”:


Above is the soothingly antiquated interface for the STOPS software (yes, I said software…remember software?). It’s available online and all it looks like anybody needs to do is plug in some info, such as expected station locations, defined forecast years and Census data…and VOILA!!! You’ve got ridership forecasts.

In my extremely unrealistic ideal City Council meeting tonight, much of the meeting would look like this:

  • Everybody would stop yelling;
  • The STOPS software interface would be shown on a big screen;
  • Somebody at ABQ Ride (perhaps in a white smock and inexplicably holding a clipboard) would lead everyone in Council Chambers through the software and how ABQ Ride determined what numbers to input;
  • Folks from the audience would ask questions regarding those inputted numbers and suggest logical changes to those numbers; 
  • The logically-derived changes would be plugged into STOPS live and everybody would see how such input changes alter the projections; 
  • Everybody in the Chamber, from Councilor to person making public comments about trees or UDAG or whatever regarding ART would knowingly nod their head in understanding; and, lastly,
  • From this shared knowledge there would be an informed, logical debate on whether these ridership figures are attainable, and thus, whether ART is a good idea.

And who says there are no fairy tales in public policy?

Okay, it won’t go like that tonight. Instead, I’ve made some calls and am trying to get someone from ABQ Ride to send me the original data inputted into STARS, just to see what it looks like and if I might play around with it a bit. Today’s blogpost is billed as a “liveblog,” as I’m both hoping there’s a chance such data might come my way, and I’m attending tonight’s meeting to old school “liveblog” the very un-fairy tale-like proceedings that will transpire.

Perhaps I’ll see you there tonight at ABQ’s own version of “March Madness.” I’ll be the one with a laptop cringing from the highly probable lack of logic and endless supply of vitriol.



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