City councilors talk public transit problems after afternoon bus rides

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — This week, city councilors Klarissa Peña and Dan Lewis spent an afternoon on the bus talking to riders, and they came to the conclusion something has to change.

For the last year, taking a bus in Albuquerque has been free. In January, the city council will decide whether or not to extend the Zero Fare program, but before they do that, they wanted to see what else on the bus goes round and round.

“Personally, we just wanted to experience what that’s like, and, and what the, you know, what it’s like for anybody and everybody for all different kinds of reasons to be able to use our transit system,” said Lewis.

“I think it’s important to kind of hear from the community to learn what they feel are some of the issues or not,” Peña said. 

On Monday, Peña and Lewis rode a bus from Cottonwood Mall—down the West Side and ended at the downtown Alvarodo station. 

“Really honest assessment. Our bus stops are dirty, our buses are dirty are absolutely filthy. Our 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. 

But, it’s not just the safety of the riders the councilors are concerned about.

“The bus driver, when we got off on our final stop was saying that, you know, he really wanted some security on the bus. So that’s, that’s one of the issues. But the other issues is cleanliness, maintenance of the stations, proper lighting,” said Peña. 

Peña and Lewis have co-authored a bill that would do away with the Zero Fare program and replace is with a Bus Pass program—a big reason for this change is right now, there is no way to know how many people are taking our busses every day.

“The department might have some ways that they’re guessing at, you know, who’s using or how many people are using the buses, but there is no way. So that’s part of what this, this bill does to it gives us the build 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,” said Lewis. 

And, of course, give bus riders more peace of mind.

“My clear goal is that 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. 

Lewis also told KOB 4 since bus rides became free there has been a 25% increase in calls for service– both on buses and at bus stops.

He says that is proof that the Zero Fare program has made the bus system more dangerous.

KOB 4 decided to check out the buses and talk with the folks who consider hopping on an ART bus a daily occurrence. 

Tineesha Salas works at a coffee shop near the intersection of Central and Atrisco but lives across town. So she rides the ART bus pretty much everyday as she commutes to work. 

So, last year when the city council announced they were trying a Free Bus Fare program she was on board. 

“At first I thought it was great but then after a while I figured it would be an issue for other people,” Salas explained. “I understand people got to get where they got to go but these homeless people tend to cause some problems.” 

And she isn’t the only one who has noticed the issues. 

“There have been a few times where there are verbal altercations on the bus,” Nick Poister said. 

Poister is a student at UNM but lives on the West Side and uses the ART bus to get to and from both class and work. 

“It’s easier for me than driving to campus and cheaper, I don’t have to pay for parking. So, I think it is a great service,” Poister said, “But there was one incident where an individual who was on the street threw a rock at the bus and broke the window where I was sitting and that was alarming.” 

But there are the riders who really enjoy the Free Fare program and hope it continues. That includes Benito Gallegos, aka Mr. G, and his students. 

“We take the bus every Wednesday and Friday,” Mr. G explained. “We do a volunteer program from Rio Grande High School, and we take kids from special education, and we volunteer at Explora.” 

But some of their school trips did hit bumps in the road. 

“One negative experience is having the kids see some of the people in the homeless situation and some are in difficult situations, and it is hard to explain that,” Mr. G said.

But despite those issues the Free Fare program has allowed Mr. G and his students to travel across town at no cost to them, and he hopes next year they will be able to volunteer again. 

“It makes it a lot easier to get out and do the things we need to do around the community, so it’s extremely helpful. We are really hoping that they will extend it starting January and if they do, it will be very helpful for us and the kids to continue our volunteer program,” said Mr. G.  

But that might not be in the cards.

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