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Old route, new bus

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The design of the new electric buses offers a familiar nod to Route 66 with its sleek gray color chosen to mimic the Air Stream trailers of yesteryear, a black and white checkered stripe running down the side and a neon strip along the top. And then there are the large windows and the upholstered seats reminiscent of a ‘50s diner.

Mayor Richard Berry unveiled the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project’s first electric bus at Civic Plaza on Tuesday morning amid cheers from supporters of the controversial project. Nineteen additional buses will follow as the city prepares to launch the new electric bus system by the end of the year.

“Can you hear the difference?” Berry asked, “Because this all-electric bus is running, and you saw the diesel bus just pull out — significant noise reduction on the all-electric buses.

The first Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) electric bus was "unveiled" during a press conference Tuesday outside the Albuquerque Convention Center in Albuquerque

The first Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) electric bus was “unveiled” during a press conference Tuesday outside the Albuquerque Convention Center in Albuquerque. (Marla Brose/ Albuqerque Journal)

“You can also smell the difference. No more carbon emissions, no more belching of smoke along Central Avenue from these buses because these electric buses are very clean. And you can see the difference. These are beautiful new buses. You can see what we tried to do with these. We tried to honor the past and the traditions of Route 66 with this bus while looking toward the future.”

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Michael Riordan, the city’s chief operations officer, said the bus will also have five access points instead of three, and will feature interior bicycle storage, USB chargers and interior security monitors.

The city is using Federal Transit Administration funding to cover the $22.9 million cost of 18 of the buses. The mayor said Build Your Dreams Bus Company, the firm that is building the buses, is giving the city two additional buses for a year.

Berry called it a good day for the city, noting that the $119 million ART project is the largest public works project in the city’s history.

“This is the first of its kind all electric bus rapid transit in America,” he said. “Albuquerque is first.”

ART will transform Central Avenue into a rapid transit corridor with a nine-mile stretch of bus-only lanes and bus stations. City officials say the project is about 65 percent complete and will be done by the end of this year.

Among those who showed up for the unveiling of the new bus was Barb Maddox, who works off of Central.

“This is a good thing,” she said. “The project is going to be amazing. I can’t wait to use the bus myself.”

“I love that it doesn’t look like a bus,” she later added. “It looks like an Air Stream trailer. It’s classy.”

Trisha Walker, second from right, chats on the first Albuquerque Rapid Transit electric bus before a news conference at the Convention Center

Trisha Walker, second from right, chats on the first Albuquerque Rapid Transit electric bus before a news conference at the Convention Center. (Marla Brose/ Albuqerque Journal)

While the design received rave reviews on Tuesday, many business owners along Central Avenue say construction has been incredibly disruptive and has hurt their businesses. Berry said he understands that, but his administration has said that the ART project is already spurring millions of dollars in investments along the ART corridor as is demonstrated by building permits.

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ART will have two lines. One will go up and down Central. The other, Berry said, will go from Central to Uptown.

He said one of the benefits of going with an electric bus system is the roughly 50 percent savings the city will see on monthly fuel and maintenance costs. Berry said that translates into an operational savings of nearly $10 million over the 15-year lifetime of the buses. Berry said that’s money that the next mayor and city council can use for more police officers and other priorities.

The 60-foot articulated battery-electric transit buses will also be eco-friendly. Berry said the carbon offset of using the electric buses is the equivalent of removing 4,601 passenger vehicles off the road for a year or removing 2,300 homes’ energy use for a year.

The new buses take less than three hours to charge and will be powered by PNM.

“We are excited that the mayor and the city chose to use electric buses for the ART project,” said Ron Darnell, a senior PNM executive. “Adding these emissions free vehicles, as the mayor said, supports the reduction of carbon in the atmosphere while providing quiet, comfortable and reliable public transportation.”


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