The title of this blog is “Better Burque,” for better or worse, and if asked what single improvement would most make Burque Better in my opinion (and thanks for asking), it would be this:
Make the bus service not suck nearly as bad as it does
Or put in more polite language and tighter prose: Improve ABQ Ride.
The subject comes up for me this Sunday morning for two reasons:
- Fiscal Year 2018 (July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2018) ridership statistics are now available at the ABQ Ride website; and,
- I wanted to ride the bus this morning, but there isn’t a route running on Sunday within roughly seven miles from my house.
Admittedly, I live roughly seven miles from downtown Albuquerque, but you might have noticed Albuquerque is either named after a Duke or urban sprawl, because we’re rather known for both. More so urban sprawl, now that I think about it. And urban sprawl is one reason why the bus service sucks in Albuquerque, but let’s look at ridership before getting back to the lack of buses on Sunday morning.
Taking the Fiscal Year 2011 through new Fiscal Year 2018 ridership figures from the ABQRide website and throwing them into the always-maddening Microsoft Excel chartmaker, we see the slight rise and precipitous fall of ABQ Ride over the past eight years. Noting when fiscal years end and that A.R.T. construction began in October, 2016, I’ve circled the beginning of impact from that horrible, horrible, no-good, terrible bus project (in the view of many, myself not included, particularly when you consider the associated pedestrian improvements on Central).
Of course, each fiscal year of data is a single point, with the trendline created between these data points. Still, the widely-held viewpoint that A.R.T. is most responsible for the death of bus ridership in Burque is not supported.
Nah, ABQ bus ridership was dying well before A.R.T. construction began. Why?
The reasons for this are many, mirroring general trends nationally concerning the price of gasoline, an improving economy since the Great Recession, and a rapidly growing self-centeredness by a greater and greater preponderance of Americans who would rather never have to sit/interact by/with any other person for as long as they live, instead far preferring to further distance themselves from the rest of humanity via larger and larger vehicles while distracting themselves via various addictive technologies.
This latter, rambling causation is not one commonly found in the literature, and I’m kinda making it up…only I’m not. We’re simply isolating ourselves more and more and more and more from the world around us, using connectivity as some bogus proxy for actual human interaction. Why and what that all means is a subject for another blogpost, specifically a blogpost written by someone who knows what they are talking about. I just know what I see.
But I digress.
Getting back to the subject of why ABQ Ride sucks and how we can improve it, we first have to consider the societal importance we in Burque place on public transit. How many of us feel, as I do, that fixing bus service here is the single most necessary improvement needed in our community? That significantly improving bus, and transit overall, service would do more than any other fix of our community ills?
Hell, how many of us would put fixing bus service in a Top Twenty of “Things to Fix in Albuquerque”? Fixing our woefully inadequate transit service is perceived as only a concern of those who can’t afford cars. And who cares what “those people” think? What socio-political power do they wield? Who the hell listens to them? Why should “we”?
As long as strong semblance to the above, very slightly exaggerated, overriding public sentiment remains in place concerning any method of transport other than getting in a car/SUV/truck and driving from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible, maybe speeding a little and hoping we don’t have to deal with anybody walking or cycling on the road slowing us down, or, please God no, having to wait behind a stopped bus picking up people too poor to afford cars/SUV/trucks, Jesus…why can’t these people just get in a car or get off the road!
As long as “we” are principally thinking along these lines, that chart above will continue to trend down, down, down. Unless something dramatic happens, like gas goes to $6.00 a gallon or…
And this is where Scot might be perceived as getting wildly optimistic…
We exponentially expand the transit service in our community to the extent that more and more of us consider it a viable option to getting to Point B efficiently. That it competes with the efficiency of cars/SUVs/trucks. That this efficiency gets us to thinking about all the costs associated with vehicles (insurance, repairs, licensing, etc.) and that sitting next to other human beings on a bus/BRT/tram/train/ferry is actually worth it, on several levels. Whether we can afford a car/SUV/truck, or not.
But won’t this exponential expansion of transit service cost a lot of money? Yes. Yes, it will.
And that’s where political leadership and will comes in. We need leaders willing to undergo the short/mid-term attacks and belly-aching that will come with such an expansion in service because they know the long-term improvement to our city is more than worth it. Because they, too, share a passionate realization that fixing ABQ Ride is not just Top Twenty, but Top Five…maybe Top One…in their mind, too.
Unfortunately, our last political leadership concerning mass transit in this town (A.R.T.) was and has continued to be a debacle not seen since we razed the Alvarado Hotel and created “Civic Plaza.” Summoning and exerting the political will to turn bus service in this town into a thriving, efficient alternative may well require either the $6.00/gallon or CO2 levels approaching 600 ppm, or both.
Or maybe we’ll just elect someone, or a few someones, who really just likes to ride the bus/BRT/tram/train/ferry, and is willing to nearly/actually die politically doing something that will only be perceived as hugely beneficial years later.
That doesn’t happen often. We have our work cut out for us.