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Editorial: Rail Runner, state need accountability

As with almost all mass transit in New Mexico, cheap gasoline is taking its toll on ridership of the $800-million-plus Rail Runner – though a 36% drop since 2010 should stop officials in their tracks.

And according to an Aug. 2 Journal story by reporter Dan McKay, there are a few concerns that deserve to be put on an express route. State legislative analysts “cited long travel times, the frequency of service and the limited schedule as factors in why more people don’t ride the train.” Terry Doyle, director of the Rio Metro Regional Transit District, which operates the Rail Runner, seems to get it and says transit systems need to do a better job of serving customers.

And once again, that means the Rail Runner has to stop trying to be all things to all people – right now it’s a commuter train that has too many stops to be efficient, a tourist train that stops running long before people are ready to call it a night.

Those hard decisions need to be on Rio Metro’s horizon. Meanwhile, Doyle’s hope that the state might allow workers to clock in while they’re commuting once the train’s wifi is improved requires some serious scrutiny and accountability. Can someone really get as much done on their commute that they would while in the office? And how do you ensure employees are not just logged in but are truly checking emails, writing memos, doing the people’s business rather than logging in and watching cat videos for the 90 minutes it takes to get from Albuquerque to Santa Fe?

Almost by definition, mass transit is subsidized. But the Rail Runner must mitigate that with decisions that ensure the train serves as many people as possible, and the state certainly can’t add subsidizing non-work entertainment to its cost.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.