Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
The fleet is not yet complete and passenger pickups are still months away.
But Albuquerque Rapid Transit buses will begin rolling down the middle of Central Avenue next week – and the city is reminding the public to stay out of the way.
The city Transit Department will start driver training on the ART route Monday, finally putting the long-dormant bus-only lanes to use for their intended purpose. As part of the process, police will begin pulling over motorists who use the lanes illegally, like crossing their double-white lines or making left turns or U-turns outside of designated points.
Such offenses will eventually carry fines up to $80, according to Albuquerque Police Department Traffic Cmdr. Donovan Rivera.
However, APD will issue only warnings during the ART testing phase, part of an effort to educate a public that has become conditioned to the lanes sitting empty.
Officials say some drivers – as well as bicyclists and even pedestrians – are now accustomed to illegally crossing the lanes.
“That is a very big concern and why we are beginning this process in a very methodical manner,” Albuquerque Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Rael said Wednesday during a news conference at the ART stop near the ABQ BioPark. “(Bus) driver training is important, but it’s also (about) beginning to show the community that the bus lanes are becoming active.”
Major construction along the ART route wrapped more than a year ago, but a lack of buses has delayed the start of service. Mayor Tim Keller’s administration last year sent back an electric ART fleet produced by the city’s original vendor, BYD Motors, alleging the vehicles were defective.
The city recently settled its lawsuit against the company that enabled both parties to exit the original contract without either paying the other.
As a replacement, the city late last year ordered 20 diesel buses from a separate vendor, New Flyer of America. It has so far received five. Officials say they have not observed any significant problems with the new, turquoise-painted models.
Rael said training the city’s 225-plus drivers on the new buses – which feature right- and left-side doors, interior bicycle racks and adjustable-height entrances that allow for passenger boarding at curbs and platforms – and traversing the “unique” route will continue for several months. He said it would likely entail running two buses in the morning and two in the afternoon.
Drivers will not pick up passengers as part of the training.
The city has not announced a more specific start date for the ART service beyond this winter, which Rael attributed to a history of delays with the $135 million project.
“We just want to make sure we don’t put some date out there that may or may not come to fruition,” he said.