BB’s Duke City Fix Post, 7.26.16: Q&A with ABQ Ride

Somewhere on the way to completely lost in the heated debate over Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) has been the proposed bus, bus line and its operator, ABQ Ride.

Utilizing the bus system’s long-time most popular corridor, by far, the proposed ART line along Central is seen by opponents as only, and inefficiently, improving what is already the best served area in town. It is for that and many other reasons, including the fact that 99% of those arguing both sides of the case don’t ride the bus, any bus, that debate has centered on myriad subjects, but almost never the bus.

For example, in yesterday’s first edition of “Mythbusters,” a multi-page rejoinder sent out by ART to address what it sees as inaccurate criticisms, there’s “busting” regarding parking, trees, left turns, traffic lane reductions, project shelf-life, historic ambiance, effects on businesses and lying on the federal grant application, while those actually boarding ART get only scant reference in a question regarding pedestrian safety on the way to getting on the bus.

But what about bus service here in the Duke City, both along the Central Corridor and throughout town, now and in the future? In particular, what about claims by ART proponents that the new line will result in a 50% increase in ridership in the next five years?

With that estimated, and dramatic, 50% ridership increase ringing in the ears, along with a strong desire to avoid the tendency for ART-related bus questions to be about anything but the bus, we directed some questions to Bruce Rizzieri, City of Albuquerque Transit Director, and ABQ Ride’s Principal Planner, Andrew de Garmo.

We started with a question about the 2015 City ordinance setting a 2022 25% (or .25) goal for “farebox recovery ratio,” the amount of overall bus system operational costs met by its fare collections.

DCF: Tell us a bit about the process regarding the 25% farebox recovery ratio ordinance. What prompted the ordinance and how did the 25% figure and June 30, 2022 deadline come about?

ABQ Ride: In 2012 a management consultant was hired to recommend changes to improve City operations.  One of their recommendations was to improve the Transit farebox recovery ratio to reduce the General Fund subsidy.  They recommended 28 – 30% as a target.  The Transit Department responded that 25% was a reasonable goal but that it would take a number of years to increase the recovery ratio.  The department suggested that the Resolution identify 2022 as the target year, a goal that could be adjusted if necessary.

DCF: What is the agency plan to achieve the 25% goal by 2022? Will this be done by raising fares, cutting service/operating costs, an expected rise in ridership or some combination of the above?

ABQ Ride: Since we have not had a fare increase for almost 15 years and now have one of the lowest fares among similar agencies in our region, we will propose, for public and Council review, reasonable, incremental increases in fares. As always, we’ll also look for any opportunities to improve route efficiencies.

DCF: In the case of hiking fares, what is the agency estimate on its impact on“discretionary riders” (Caution: link is wonky, but very, very informative) and ridership levels overall?

ABQ Ride: As with any price increase, there’s likely to be an initial drop in demand. There has not been a major fare increase in almost 15 years. If a fare increase is proposed, ABQ RIDE will collect information from transit agencies that have had fare increases in recent years in order to find out the impact on ridership.

DCF: If fares were to go up, has the agency considered incorporating a “low-income” fare structure? If so, what sort of proof of low-income status would be needed?

ABQ Ride: Any change in fares would include lower cost fare products for low-income individuals. We already have such a fare structure, with those reduced-price passes distributed through agencies who serve low-income individuals – as well as reduced fares for seniors, students, and people with disabilities. See here for more information on the current pricing. Any fare increase would be carefully evaluated to avoid disproportionately impacting low-income users.

DCF: Has the agency considered some sort of “smartcard” fare payment technology, such as that in Tucson?

ABQ Ride: Yes, we have considered different ways of paying fares.  We are currently focused on developing a smartphone payment system since many people already carry phones with them and therefore wouldn’t have to buy anything new to carry with them.  We’ve reviewed a number of different vendors that have smartphone payment apps and are currently in the procurement process with the goal of being able to go “live” early next year.

Smart cards are also a possibility but would require a little more investment up front by both ABQ RIDE and users.  The question to answer is whether there’s a market for a fare product that would require people to pay the ~$5 cost of the cards themselves – or whether ABQ RIDE would have to absorb some or all of that cost.

DCF: Arguments for Albuquerque Rapid Transit include an expectation of a 50% increase in ridership. Is that an expected 50% increase in ridership systemwide, on all the Rapid Ride routes, or only versus the two existing Rapid Ride routes?

ABQ Ride: That expected increase is relative to the current ridership of the two existing Central Rapid Ride routes. (Note: As shown in the banner atop this blogpost, and found here, the 2015 ridership for these two routes was 2,307,067) 

DCF: Does the 50% increase projection rely on creation of a second BRT line along University?

ABQ Ride: No.

DCF: ART’s dedicated bus lanes will be the first HOV experience for Albuquerque. What education and enforcement efforts are planned to ensure compliance and safety with this “new” idea?

ABQ Ride: We will have an education campaign to let people know about the dedicated lanes, which will be clearly marked as bus-only, and we’ll work with APD on educating drivers on the use of those lanes.  Note that we have had a bus-only lane for many years westbound from Girard to University and have not have any significant problems with people using the lane inappropriately.

DCF: Will motorists be allowed to use the dedicated lane to go around cars in the process of parallel parking in single motor lane sections of Central, e.g., Nob Hill? If so, how long (distance) will they be allowed to do so?

ABQ Ride: Yes, people will be able to use the lanes for a reasonable distance to pass obstacles – i.e. long enough to get around a parking car, a stalled vehicle, etc.  Again, we’ll work with APD on education and appropriate enforcement.

DCF: A Road Safety Assessment (RSA) report on a vital intersection along the ART/Central Corridor, at San Mateo, has just been released. What alterations in ART planning at that intersection are scheduled based on the RSA’s findings/recommendations?

ABQ Ride: We made a number of adjustments to the design in response to recommendations from the RSA as it went through its process, which started last summer.  Many of the items identified in Table 8 in the RSA were things we were doing anyway, but we tweaked the design to incorporate specific recommendations (e.g. alignment of curb ramps) or added elements to our design (e.g. wider sidewalks where we were acquiring right-of-way anyway).  Other recommendations can be revisited in the future based on evaluating actual traffic flow at the intersection after the changes with ART are implemented.

Note: Here is “Table 8” referred to above:

And because your humble interviewer is an avid cyclist, he couldn’t finish without asking…

DCF: As the ART project currently doesn’t offer bike lanes in several stretches, will cyclists be allowed to “share” the dedicated bus lane? If not, what sort of education and enforcement is planned to police non-compliance?

ABQ Ride: Note that the City’s Bikeways and Trails Facilities Plan (Caution: big file) does not include bike lanes on Central Avenue east of New York, and bike lanes will be included with ART on Central west of New York.  Like cars above, we will not prevent bikes from using the ART lanes for short distances if necessary to avoid an obstacle, but they will not be allowed to use the lanes for more extensive distances.  Since the lanes are in the center of the street with traffic on either side, we anticipate that few cyclists will be tempted to use those lanes for any extended distance, opting instead to use parallel facilities like Zuni, which is getting restriped with bike lanes right now (much of it completed), Martin Luther King Blvd. (also getting improvements now), or Silver, which will be getting an initial phase of improvements in the coming months.

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