City councilors set to vote on free bus fare program

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Waiting for the bus in southeast Albuquerque is apparently turning violent. Drivers on Central had a front row seat to a knife fight between two women in broad daylight.

Security issues like this have reignited conversations among Albuquerque city councilors about the future of public transit.

A city ordinance is up for discussion Monday that outlines a replacement program, and several ways to keep knife fights away from bus stops.

“I need to call rescue for you alright because you’re leaking bad.”

A local business owner posted videos on social media showing two women, who they say had just gotten into a knife fight. The post adds the stop is a usual hangout for people who use and sell drugs, and damage property.

“Our bus stops are dirty, our buses are dirty are absolutely filthy,” said Dan Lewis, city councilor. 

It’s incidents like these that led to a new ordinance from city councilors Lewis, and Klarissa Peña. One goal is to replace the current free bus fare program, with a bus pass program.

“It gives us the ability to be able to track our progress and the success of the buses, and the ridership as well as knowing who people are, you know, that are riding buses, I think that’s fair,” Lewis said. 

The ordinance states the free fare program sparked a 25% increase in calls for security service at bus stops and on buses in the first quarter of this year. It cites the attorney general’s office report that shoplifters used city buses as their getaway vehicles. It also states some drivers have quit because of safety concerns.

“We want to make sure that it’s just safe and clean for everyone who decides to ride the bus, whether it’s someone who’s homeless, or whether it’s a student or a woman trying to get her doctor’s appointments,” said Peña.

The ordinance lays out how riders would have to apply for a bus pass. It would also establish a fund only to help increase salaries and benefits for drivers — among other ways to improve the system.

“I would not say that our bus system is safe right now when you have people that are using fentanyl on the buses and at those bus stops. We have some serious concerns that need to be addressed right now,” said Lewis.

Groups who work with the metro’s homeless have already spoken out against getting rid of the free fare program, saying it’s really difficult for their clients to navigate extra barriers.

The city council is scheduled to vote on this ordinance Monday night.