ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Training for drivers who will operate the Albuquerque Rapid Transit 60-foot electric buses on the nine-mile Central Avenue route is underway.
Transit Department Director Bernie Toon said the 16-week training period, which began last month, will give the drivers knowledge and experience on how the buses perform during regular use.
All 230 ABQ Ride drivers will receive the training. The buses are not carrying passengers, other than ABQ Ride trainers, during this time.
Toon said the agency hopes to achieve certain objectives during the training period.
“One is to build driver skills and emphasize safety being No. 1 in our training,” Toon said. “They’ve had about a month’s worth of classroom training, because the buses have a lot of systems and technology on them. We want to get them used to docking at all the stations, the braking systems, using all the functions like the new wheelchair loaders. The second thing is testing and getting a feel for traffic flow, signaling issues and identifying where we have problem areas with traffic flow. The third is assessing bus performance.”
The biggest challenge, Toon said, has been to get drivers used to the docking systems, which require loading and unloading passengers from the left side of the bus instead of the right, as well as the braking system and traffic patterns using the 15 buses the city has in its possession. The buses are quieter also, he said.
“That’s something that the public will have to get used to also,” he said. “You’re not running down the middle of the street belching smoke and hearing a big diesel engine accelerate away from a bus stop. It’s a quieter sort of engine experience, so that’s a little different and will take getting used to.”
ART has been billed as a project that would transform Central Avenue into a rapid transit corridor with a stretch of bus-only lanes and stations. The project, including associated utility and road work, comes at a cost of $135 million.
Drivers will train on the buses at all times of the day, Toon said.
“We’ll be varying it,” he said. “It’s not like people will see buses going by the stops every seven or 10 minutes. Because of all the different types of conditions we want to try to train in, we’ll be training during rush hour, we’ll be training during non-rush hour, we’ll be training at times when there are low traffic patterns and when there are special events. We’ll also be doing some simulations, that we will give advance notice, for breakdowns and those kinds of things. We want to make sure we simulate every possible scenario we can, so we’ll know that we’re dealing with.”
He also said Albuquerque police will continue to be watchful during the training period to ensure regular vehicle traffic doesn’t impede bus training. APD will use a warning process to educate drivers who cross over into the ART lanes to make illegal left turns, he said.
Toon said he maintains hope that an interim operation could start as soon as late fall.
Motorists can find more information and a video about the signal system on Central Avenue by visiting cabq.gov/transit.