The City of Albuquerque is looking to clean up its act this fall and hopes the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project will make major strides with the roll-out of 60-foot, all-electric buses.
As the ART project aims to wrap up by year’s end, Mayor Richard Berry’s office hopes the new transportation system — along with other large investments — can transform Albuquerque’s center.
Earlier this month, the mayor unveiled the new buses and announced Albuquerque would be the first in the nation to have all-electric rapid transit. Reminiscent of a Route 66 diner, the buses have a grey body, a checkered stripe and a neon accent running along the top.
“The selection of electric buses make the ART project an even more sustainable project for Albuquerque’s future,” Berry said.
Once the ART project is completed, there will be 20 such electric buses, each outfitted with interior bike racks and USB chargers. They will be powered by PNM and take fewer than three hours to charge.
According to a city cost analysis, the buses will save roughly 50 percent on fuel and maintenance costs. In addition to the savings, the carbon offset of using the buses will be the equivalent of removing 4,061-passenger vehicles off the road for a year.
The fleet will run through the new ART-created rapid transit corridor of Central Ave. The corridor has been designed to include a nine-mile stretch of bus-only lanes and bus stations.
The $22.9 million buses are funded using Federal Transportation Administration funding.
With the cost of the project topping off at $119 million, the ART project is the largest public works project in the city’s history.
UNM administrators hope the ART project will link a newly finished student housing complex — Lobo Rainforest — to campus.
“With ART, hopefully students will be able to go back and forth from campus with ease,” said Lisa Kuuttila, CEO and Chief Economic Development Officer at STC UNM. STC UNM is a University-based non-profit that was created to support technology transfer and promote economic development.
Through the traditional ABQ Ride program, students will be able to utilize the rapid transit system for free. As before, students will need to obtain a sticker on their student ID cards in order to benefit from free rides.
STC UNM is one of many tenants of the Lobo Rainforest building. Others include UNM’s Innovation Academy, the Air Force Research Lab and Nusenda Credit Union.
“Having ART will make (Lobo Rainforest) more accessible and user friendly,” Kuuttila said, adding the new building is critical in developing the city’s own innovation district.
The building is the result of a four-and-a-half year long partnership between UNM, the city, county and private partners called Innovate ABQ. The new building is designed to be the center point — or nucleus as Kuuttila calls it — for the partnership.
Positioned at the intersection of Broadway Blvd. and Central Ave., Lobo Rainforest is also at the centerpoint of growing property crime and violent crime in the city.
From 2013 to 2016, murders increased 65 percent, auto thefts 157 percent and robberies 87 percent, according to research done by the Albuquerque Innovation Team.
Downtown — specifically Lomas as far south as Pacific Ave. and from Eighth St. to Broadway Blvd. — has been identified as a high-crime cluster by the study.
“You kind of just have to be on the defense,” said Kyle Guin, a student entrepreneur living in Lobo Rainforest.
“Lock your car, lock your windows,” he advised, but added his two years in the city have conditioned him to crime.
Administrators hope this city investment can reverse the uptick.
Last month, the mayor announced a plan to clean up Downtown that included: a greater police presence in the area, additional street sweepers, increased graffiti control and trash cleanup. The plan also included additional services for people suffering from homelessness, substance abuse and mental health issues.
The mayor’s announcement came shortly after a prominent business — Lavu Inc., a technology startup located at First St. and Central Ave. — publically warned it would abandon its Albuquerque office if crime persisted.
The Lobo Rainforest building is one block east of Lavu’s Albuquerque office.
Berry’s announcement included a commitment to more city partnerships with business owners and coordination between private security and police.
For Guin, who developed software designed to streamline mobile phone calendar use, the innovative student housing is a good tool to start the revamp.
“The innovation district has been a huge help cleaning up Downtown,” he said. “Now, we’re bringing people who mean absolute good for the community.”
The building will be patrolled by UNMPD and have its own security.
Brendon Gray is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @notgraybrendon.