Councilors want to replace ‘zero fare’ bus service with pass program
Two Albuquerque city councilors want to end the zero-fare bus pilot, officially reinstating fees but making free passes widely available to anyone who asks for them.
Klarissa Peña, Democrat and co-sponsor of the original zero-fare pilot, worked with Republican Dan Lewis on the new proposal.
Their bill cites growing safety concerns on the city’s public transit system since rides became free for all on Jan. 1.
“I think the data tells us that (security issues have increased with the zero-tariff model), and I’m totally disappointed,” Peña said. “I believe most people who take the bus take the bus for the right reason and then we have people who use the bus and create these incidents.
“It’s a shame that this small minority – the very small minority – is kind of forcing us to do this.”
The proposal would create a new pass system that would allow any passenger to board for free after completing an application, showing photo ID and providing “other information that the transit service has necessary for the orderly management of a bus pass system”.
The passes will have tracking numbers and will be valid for 36 months on all city buses and – for those who qualify – also on the city’s Sun Van paratransit service.
Those without photo ID are eligible for a non-renewable 30-day pass.
Peña said the city already requires a similar application process for its Sun Vans, including from riders like her brother who have developmental disabilities, so she doesn’t see it as an insurmountable barrier.
“I think by doing this we make sure people feel more comfortable on the bus. When anyone can just get on the bus and shoot a shotgun while driving a bus, it’s alarming,” Peña said, citing a high-profile incident in August in which an Albuquerque Rapid Transit passenger fired a gun inside a busy bus.
The city’s transit system — including buses, stops and transit hubs — generated an average of 606 calls per month in 2022, according to the most recent numbers available. Immediately before the pilot program, it averaged 450 per month, although the city didn’t start tracking that data until late 2021.
Councilor Pat Davis – who co-sponsored the original zero-tariff legislation – said he would not support the new proposal. He said there were problems on the bus before the driver that no pass system prevented and argues that bolstering the ranks of the city’s security guards is better than inducing individual users to search for and apply for passes.
“What it really looks like is a way to deny some people who have the least access to existing city services access to another, which is public transit,” Davis said.
The new legislation requires a number of reports and studies. This includes exploring the feasibility of a fare box system that records pass usage, including date, time, route and boarding location; it also requires the city to develop a short-term “tactical plan”, a long-term safety program, and an incident tracking system.
The tactical plan will include procedures to prevent access to public transport by those “who have been abusive or dangerous towards drivers or the public (while in a vehicle or at a stop) by causing them to lose the access to public transportation for an appropriate period of time via a trespassing citation or other appropriate means.”
“After hearing from constituents, bus drivers and even the Attorney General about the safety of our transit system, it has become clear that we need to change our approach in order to continue providing transit service. safe and of high quality,” councilor Dan Lewis said in a writing. statement.
Last year, the council approved an order to eliminate bus fares on a pilot basis for all of 2022 and provided a $3 million grant to replace lost revenue. Council passed a new budget this spring with funding to extend the pilot until June 30, 2023.
Under the Lewis/Peña legislation, the reinstated rate would be $1, but city officials could make short-term changes on an “experimental” basis. The bill requires all new revenue to be put into a special fund specifically to raise salaries for bus drivers and Sun Van. Bus drivers have historically been difficult to hire and keep, and the city is currently experiencing such a shortage that officials say the transit service sometimes skips routes without notice due to staffing issues.
The city’s starting wage for bus drivers is $15.44 per hour.
A Department of Transit spokeswoman said it was too early to comment on the proposal.
“Because the legislation was just introduced last night, it is too early for the Department of Transit to comment,” spokeswoman Megan Holcomb said in a written statement to the Journal. “We will, however, keep up to date and provide the necessary information as the order moves through the Council process.”