Monday, March 16, 2009
N.M. Stimulus Creating Jobs Elsewhere
By Lloyd Jojola
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
Will a batch of transit-related federal stimulus money help boost the Duke City economy? Or will people mainly be taken for a ride on a bunch of new city buses built in Canada and Minnesota?
The city was recently allocated about $11.3 million in federal stimulus money for ABQ Ride vehicles and equipment purchases. Of that total, $11.1 million will be used to buy about 20 new buses and upgrades to fare boxes.
ABQ Ride has been upgrading its fleet in recent years. Almost 40 new buses are being added, and they are built by Winnipeg, Canada-headquartered New Flyer.
About 40 percent of each bus is built in Canada, the other 60 percent in Minnesota, where New Flyer also has manufacturing facilities.
Transit Director Greg Payne said that, despite its Canadian operations, New Flyer qualifies as an American-made company under the rules of the Federal Transit Administration.
Lawrence Rael, executive director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments, said the stimulus rules require proof of job creation. They just don't have to be here.
Rael said that, under the transparency and reporting portion of the stimulus act, the money recipient — the city, in this case — would have to describe how jobs are being created by way of a new bus order.
"But the jobs don't have to be created locally, no," Rael said, pointing out that buses aren't made or can't be bought in Albuquerque.
"I suspect the rationale on the federal government's side is that more buses are ordered and there will be more jobs in factories that build buses, so therefore there's a direct relationship in creating jobs."
Rael's agency handles regional transportation issues for various local governments.
Payne, who said that about $225,000 of the stimulus money will be used to purchase self-serve kiosks to be used around the city to allow people to purchase bus passes, said the new buses will be good for Albuquerque.
"We do have a need in terms of updating the fleet and the technology we have," Payne said, adding that the buses bought with stimulus money would be used to augment the existing fleet or retire older buses, depending on what happens with reauthorization of the city's quarter-cent transportation tax.
"They (New Flyer) are based in Canada, and that's kind of like some of the gasoline we buy is based in Nigeria, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia — you might want to point that one out, too," he said. "If I could buy all my gasoline from New Mexico, I would."
Based on ABQ Ride's statistics, boardings increased by about 12 percent from 2007 to 2008. Bus ridership in January 2009, compared with the same month last year, was up by nearly 5 percent.
Mayor Martin Chávez said there is a big economic benefit to the city through buying buses — putting people on ADA-accessible, environmentally sound alternative transportation.
"You reduce wear and tear on the roads, you clean the air, and all those things contribute greatly to the quality of life and the creation of wealth," he said. "If we are a traffic-clogged, polluted city, we lose investment.
"The second thing is ... what are we going to do, send the money back? Say, 'No, thanks.' ... If we don't take the money, San Diego, Denver, Phoenix, Austin will take the money gladly."