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Monday, December 22, 2014

City to expand bus services with students in mind

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By Adria Malcolm / New Mexico Daily Lobo

ASUNM President Jaymie Roybal and ASUNM Executive Director of Governmental Affairs Florencio Olguin speak with Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry (left) during a press conference promoting free bus passes for students Wednesday.

High tech busses, expanded routes and later hours are just a few of the improvements UNM students could see in the future of free bus service in Albuquerque.

ASUNM and GPSA representatives held a press conference Wednesday to celebrate the ABQ RIDE free bus pass program’s success. City officials along with UNM Parking and Transportation Services (PATS) delivered a presentation detailing upcoming plans for Albuquerque’s public transportation system. The ABQ RIDE free bus pass program provides free bus rides for students, staff and faculty at UNM and CNM. Only a school I.D. is needed, along with the sticker provided by the Transportation Information Center in the SUB.

PATS interim director Robert Nelson said funding for the free bus pass program comes from the city, student fees, the Health Sciences Center and fees from the University administration.

Nelson said nearly 74,000 people commute to and from the University area every day. He said the program helps tremendously with congestion in the area.

“When we can have thousands of people not coming in single occupant vehicles but coming in some alternative form like the city bus system, like an improved bicycle program, like increased trips by pedestrians, it positively impacts the region,” he said.

The program began in 2007 after Representative Gail Chasey (D, Albuquerque) sponsored the legislation to fund it. Chasey said Albuquerque’s program is based on similar programs at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Chasey said the program has grown beyond her expectations.

“I don’t think I envisioned this great of success, I really don’t,” she said. “I think that I thought a discreet number of people would appreciate it. I had no Idea it would balloon like it has.”

ASUNM President Jaymie Roybal said 20.4 percent of undergraduate students reported using the ABQ Ride free bus pass program as their primary mode of transportation to UNM in 2011, and an additional 5 percent reported using the program as a secondary form of transportation to UNM.

Rick DeReyes, public information officer at ABQ RIDE, said another initiative ABQ Ride is exploring is the possibility of a Bus Rapid Transit route, a route that is faster than the current Rapid Ride system.

“It’s a type of public transportation system using busses that would provide a faster, more efficient service than an ordinary bus line or even the Rapid Ride,” he said.

DeReyes said new busses feature equipment that is timed with traffic lights, which allows them to pass through intersections faster.

DeReyes said the Bus Rapid Transit route would accomplish faster commute time by implementing “bus only lanes” on some route sections. He said this would reduce the time spent waiting for other cars to pass.

“If everything goes according to plan we could have it (Bus Rapid Transit) in as early as 2016,” DeReyes said.

Bruce Rizzieri, Director of Transit at ABQ RIDE, ABQ RIDE has future plans in partnership with the University to further expand the transportation system, including expanding routes along San Mateo and Lomas boulevards and running buses more frequently between UNM and surrounding residential areas. Changes would also include later operating hours.