Two councilors push free bus passes over zero-fare rides - Albuquerque Journal

Two councilors push free bus passes over zero-fare rides

City Councilors Klarissa Peña and Dan Lewis have introduced legislation that would phase out the city’s ‘zero-fare’ bus pilot but keep buses free to those who apply for a pass. (Chancey Bush/Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Two Albuquerque city councilors want to end the zero-fare bus pilot, formally reinstating fees but making free passes widely available to anyone who applies.

Klarissa Peña, a Democrat and a co-sponsor of the original zero-fare pilot, collaborated with Republican Dan Lewis on the new proposal.

Their bill cites the rising security issues on the city’s transit system since rides became free for all on Jan. 1.

“I think the data is telling us that (security problems have grown with the zero-fare model), and I am totally disappointed,” Peña said. “I believe that most people riding the bus are riding the bus for the right reason and then we have some folks who are utilizing the bus and creating these incidents.

“It’s unfortunate this small minority – the very small minority – is kind of forcing us to have to do this.”

The proposal would create a new pass system that allows any rider to board for free after completing an application, showing photo identification and providing “other information the Transit Department requires for orderly management of a bus fare pass system.”

The passes will have tracking numbers and be good for 36 months on all city buses and – for those who qualify – also on the city’s Sun Van paratransit service.

Those without photo IDs are eligible for a nonrenewable 30-day pass.

Peña said the city already requires a similar application process for its Sun Vans, including from riders like her brother who are developmentally disabled, so she does not consider it an insurmountable barrier.

“I think by doing this we make sure people feel more comfortable being on the bus. When anyone can just get on the bus and shoot off a shotgun while riding a bus, that’s alarming,” said Peña, citing a high-profile August incident during which an Albuquerque Rapid Transit passenger fired a gun inside an occupied bus.

The city’s transit system – including buses, stops and transportation centers – has generated an average of 606 calls per month in 2022, according to the most recent numbers available. Immediately prior to the pilot program, it averaged 450 a month, though the city only started tracking that data in late 2021.

Councilor Pat Davis – who co-sponsored the original zero-fare legislation – said he will not support the new proposal. He said there were issues on the bus before the pilot that no pass system prevented and contends bolstering the city’s security guard ranks is preferable to putting the responsibility on individual riders to seek and apply for passes.

“What it really sounds like is a way to prohibit some people who have the least access to existing city services from accessing one more, which is public transit,” Davis said.

People load into the ART bus at the San Mateo bus stop on Central Avenue in Albuquerque in July. ABQ’s Ride Zero Fares Pilot Program began on January 2, 2022, and runs thorough the end the year, with zero fares for passengers to ride the ABQ RIDE, ART and Sun Van. ABQ Ride is collecting data on ridership numbers, including security incidents, cost and feedback from passengers. The data will help determine whether or not the program will continue beyond 2022. (Chancey Bush/ Albuquerque Journal)

The new legislation requires a number of reports and studies. That includes exploring the feasibility of a fare box system that records pass use, including the date, time, route and boarding location; it also requires the city to develop a short-range “tactical plan,” long-term security program and an incident tracking system.

The tactical plan will include procedures to prevent transit access by those “who have been abusive or dangerous toward drivers or the public (while in a vehicle or at a stop) by causing them to lose access to transit for an appropriate period of time via a trespass citation or other appropriate means.”

“After hearing from constituents, bus drivers, and even the Attorney General about safety on our transit system, it became clear that we need to change our approach in order to continue providing quality and safe transit services,” Councilor Dan Lewis said in a written statement.

The council last year approved an ordinance to eliminate bus fares on a pilot basis for all of 2022 and provided a $3 million subsidy to replace the lost revenue. The council this spring passed a new budget with funding to extend the pilot through June 30, 2023.

Under the Lewis/Peña legislation, the reinstated fare would be $1, but city officials could make short-term changes on an “experimental” basis. The bill requires putting all new revenue into a special fund specifically to increase salaries for bus and Sun Van drivers. Bus drivers are historically hard to hire and keep, and the city has such a current shortage that officials say the Transit Department is sometimes skipping routes without notice due to staffing problems.

The city’s starting wage for bus drivers is $15.44 per hour.

A Transit Department spokeswoman said it is too soon to weigh in on the proposal.

“Because the legislation was just introduced last night, it is too early for the Transit Department to comment,” spokeswoman Megan Holcomb said in a written statement to the Journal. “We will, however, stay up to date and provide necessary information as the ordinance moves through the Council process.”

Home » Travel » Two councilors push free bus passes over zero-fare rides


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
NM expands help with filling court forms
ABQnews Seeker
Court-scribe program helps people understand and ... Court-scribe program helps people understand and complete documents
2
SWAT activation prompts road closures in SW ABQ
ABQnews Seeker
Authorities have closed La Vega SW ... Authorities have closed La Vega SW in both directions between Arthur and Riverside SW due to an active SWAT situation, according to a social ...
3
The PED is asking for feedback on its new ...
ABQnews Seeker
Proposed are several rule changes to ... Proposed are several rule changes to implement the system, known as micro-credentials
4
A DEADLY YEAR
ABQnews Seeker
Montaño shooting marks record 115th homicide ... Montaño shooting marks record 115th homicide in city
5
Spelling bee competitors master craft one word at a ...
ABQnews Seeker
Favorite books help bee competitors get ... Favorite books help bee competitors get ready
6
PNM struggles with rising fuel cost issues
ABQnews Seeker
But customer fuel prices are expected ... But customer fuel prices are expected to decrease significantly in January
7
Santa Fe Opera wins international recognition as 'Festival of ...
ABQnews Seeker
The International Opera Awards named the ... The International Opera Awards named the artistic nucleus just north of Santa Fe 'Festival of the Year' at a ceremony in Madrid, Spain.
8
Talking Grammer, Ep. 55: UNM Lobo coach Richard Pitino
ABQnews Seeker
In episode 55 of the podcast, ... In episode 55 of the podcast, we catch up with UNM Lobo basketball coach Richard Pitino on what has been a unique first month ...
9
Pearce wins reelection as NM GOP chairman through 2024
2022 election
Fends off 4 challengers with 55% ... Fends off 4 challengers with 55% of votes cast