For those who have long wished that the problem-plagued Albuquerque Rapid Transit would just go away, well, your wish has been granted – but only for the short term.
As of Saturday, ART buses will be suspended from operating along the Central Avenue corridor, a victim of decreased ridership because of social distancing and stay-home mandates by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
But ART isn’t the only public transportation affected by safety measures put in place to curb the spread of coronavirus. Other city bus routes, on-demand Sun Van runs and local taxi companies are all feeling the effects of reduced ridership.
Starting Monday, city buses will run Monday through Saturday on what had been the normally reduced Saturday schedule, Albuquerque Transit Department spokesman Rick De Reyes said. Sunday buses will stick to their normal, even leaner, schedule.
Eduwiges Robles, 71, peered down Central Avenue from an ART platform Wednesday, her face hidden behind a surgical mask, looking for a bus home. Several bags sat at her feet filled with prescriptions, groceries and other household items.
Robles lives alone and depends on multiple bus routes to run errands a couple times a week. She had been unaware that ART service was going to stop and all other city buses were going to an abbreviated schedule.
“How can I do it if there is no bus? I need it,” she asked, adding that she was not excited about the idea of waiting “up to an hour” for buses running on a weekend schedule.
“That’s crazy. It’s not right,” Robles said.
Another ART rider, Brian Chavez, said he has been taking the bus for a couple months, since his truck broke down.
“It is going to affect us a lot,” he said. “I have to transport myself back and forth every morning and afternoon all the way to the east side.”
Chavez said that he doesn’t think shutting down the buses is necessary but that he understands the city needs to take precautions.
In the weeks since the COVID-19 virus became a major concern to New Mexicans, bus ridership has fallen 35%, according to estimates made before the governor’s mandate earlier this week for all nonessential businesses to close and employees to work from home where possible.
The number of fixed-route bus trips on a normal weekday, including ART bus trips, will be reduced from 168 to 48, De Reyes said.
On-demand trips on Sun Van, used primarily by people with health conditions that prevent them from using fixed route buses, are down from a normal of 1,000 to 1,200 trips a day to about 150 trips a day, De Reyes said.
He said that each pickup and drop-off is categorized as a separate trip for each passenger and that passengers often have multiple appointments or errands in a single day.
“By going to a Saturday service schedule, fewer drivers will need to be out driving, and that lets us devote more people to cleaning and sanitizing of our main buses that will be out on the road the next day,” he said.
And because service has slowed for Sun Vans, “it allows for some Sun Van drivers to assist the Department of Senior Affairs with transportation or delivery of meals to seniors, De Reyes said.
Commuter bus routes that transported people more quickly from one end of the city to the other have been shelved for now, as have some routes that served the Rail Runner trains, which have also stopped running, he said. Only one bus route will now serve Kirtland Air Force Base.
Taxi cab operators have also experienced a decrease in ridership and are putting fewer cabs out on the streets.
Ricardo Gonzales, manager of ABQ Green Cab, said business was down by about 60%, while Daniel Ricker of ABQ Metro Taxi estimated his reduction at about 50%.
“Certainly there is some natural social distancing between the drivers and passengers in the back seat,” Ricker said. “We are constantly keeping the cabs wiped down and sanitized, pretty much after each run.”