Fate of zero fares still in the back seat - Albuquerque Journal

Fate of zero fares still in the back seat

The Albuquerque City Council has not yet voted on legislation that would replace zero fares with a pass-based system. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

A proposal to end Albuquerque’s existing free-to-all bus service has traveled a rocky road.

The City Council earlier this month postponed voting on the Dan Lewis/Klarissa Peña legislation to replace the current zero-fare system – which allows everyone to board without paying or showing documentation – with a model that limits free rides to passengers with a city-issued pass or other identification. Without either, rides would cost $1 per trip or $2 for a day pass.

It was the third time the legislation had been before the council and was deferred.

Introduced originally in October, the Lewis/Peña bill has undergone changes designed to make it more palatable to critics. While it initially offered free boarding only to those with a city pass, the current iteration also grants free access to people flashing a range of different identification. That includes a driver’s license, student or military ID, or Medicare card.

The sponsors have said they aim to address security challenges throughout the city’s public transportation network, and their bill also requires the city administration to develop short- and long-range security plans.

“Bus drivers expressed (to us) very specifically they felt like the changes that happened when this program took place have led to the condition those buses are in now,” Lewis said of the zero-fare pilot project launched on Jan. 1, 2022, and funded through June 30, 2023.

But several other councilors raised concerns during the Jan. 4 meeting about the proposed change. Every one of the meeting’s public comments on the bill opposed it. And the city’s transit director said she did not believe a pass/ID-or-fare system was going to reduce crime on the buses significantly, and that it might actually increase tense interactions between drivers and passengers.

“I do think that we will see some fare-dispute issues,” Transit Director Leslie Keener said during that meeting.

Councilor Brook Bassan said it makes more sense to put the $250,000 the bill allocates for the proposal’s administrative costs toward actual security personnel, while Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn argued that limiting free boarding to those with a pass or ID would effectively create barriers for only the “most disadvantaged people in our community.”

Councilor Pat Davis, meanwhile, said it is unclear how showing a driver’s license or student ID would enhance safety.

“Unless we create a registry that requires you to scan it, put your name in, have the driver check it against a registry when you get on to know if you’re banned, how do we even know who people are if they commit a crime?” he said.

Davis and Fiebelkorn sponsored a competing proposal that would put $1 million more toward transit security and keep zero fares in place until the city has completed a full analysis of the first 12 months and the City Council has decided whether to continue it.

Peña noted the different approaches and said she wanted to work with other councilors to find the best solution.

“I think what we need to do is kind of put our heads together and try to come up with a good bill that does address safety,” she said. “If that does, at the end of the day, turn into some kind of pass system, we have to do that.”

In a recent interview, Davis said he, Fiebelkorn, Lewis and Peña have worked on compromise legislation that could be introduced at Wednesday’s council meeting. A draft version he provided the Journal would take elements of both bills, but would notably push any decision about the future of zero fares until later this year. It requires the city administration to first present a full analysis of the zero-fare pilot – including how it affected security, operations and expenses – and make recommendations about how the city should proceed. That report would not be due until September 30 and the council could then decide whether to continue the existing system or make changes.

“We’re putting it back on the administration to go out on the market and figure out what system they would use that would address (security) concerns and then bring it back. We’ll have a policy discussion of what kind of impact that would have on ridership and whether that’s a good idea,” Davis said.

Lewis on Monday said the compromise legislation remains only a draft and Peña said she could not comment specifically on it, but that she felt sponsors have had positive discussions so far and seem to want the same thing.

“We all agree something needs to be done about safety on buses,” she said.

AND THE 2023 GAVEL GOES TO … : Pat Davis will serve as City Council president for 2023, having narrowly defeated Klarissa Peña for the position.

Davis – in the last year of what he says will be his final term on the council – was elected the body’s president on a 5-4 vote.

His support came from all the council’s Democrats – save Peña – and from Republican Trudy Jones. Peña and the remaining Republicans – Bassan, Lewis and Renee Grout – voted for Peña.

The council elected Grout its vice president and chose Bassan to chair its budget committee.

Jessica Dyer: jdyer@abqjournal.com

_WebHeadline”>–EX: ‘We all agree something needs to be done about safety on buses,’ Klarissa Peña says

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