At the Albuquerque city council meeting on Sept. 8, councilors voted to defer two key issues that would have individually eliminated local bus fares and placed traffic cameras to fine speeders in the city.
The deferral of the zero bus fares amendment is the third time this specific action has been deferred; the first deferment happened on Aug. 2 and the second on Aug. 16. The amendment would be a year-long pilot program that the city has already budgeted for and funded, allowing everyone who wishes to ride a city bus to do so free for a year.
The deferral came after lots of debate in the meeting over the safety of the program and anti-homeless rhetoric. Councilor Brook Bassan said many councilors were worried about security issues with “certain ridership — of the unhoused — being on the buses and the transit system,” and proposed that the power to remove passengers from buses be given to the drivers if a nuisance does occur.
Councilor Trudy Jones also spoke out against the current plan, as she did not think it did enough to benefit people using it as a means to get to work and is currently set up only to benefit the unhoused population.
“If we want to be a vibrant growing city and a true city we need to have a public transit system that serves everyone, and I’m hearing here we only want to serve homeless people?” Jones said.
Councilor Lan Sena instead advocated for social workers to be put on buses as a means to deal with any issues and also cited a similar zero-fare program in Kansas City, Missouri, which made all city busses free for everyone to use. Sena said that Kansas City’s program did not have the effect many councilors are afraid of.
“I know based off of other pilot programs which we have evaluated, such as Kansas City, oftentimes what we see is increased ridership,” Sena said. “So more people on buses also mitigates security concerns.”
Christopher Ramirez, a transportation advocate with Together for Brothers, a transit equity advocacy group, spoke to the Daily Lobo about the city council’s efforts for free transit. Ramirez said the city council has been working on it for years and have yet to put it into action.
“Free fares are about more than buses and transportation. They are about health equity and outcomes,” Ramirez said. “For communities who are transit-dependent, it’s about access to education, employment and recreation as well as promoting healthy habits like eating local and organic food and exercise.”
The deferral of the automated speed cameras ordinance (which would amend the existing transit system ordinance) also caused heavy debate. The proposed cameras would be placed around the city and send $100 tickets via mail to anyone caught driving over the posted speed limit.
This ordinance also comes after red-light cameras were removed from Albuquerque in 2011, after the city voted against it and the city council sided with them. While the automated speed cameras would not be used to catch individuals who run traffic lights, they are another form of automated traffic surveillance, which Councilor Pat Davis and Jones were very against.
“It will only work for people who want to obey the law,” Jones said, criticizing the bill.
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Jones said there is no way to enforce individuals to pay the fine given to them without having officers show up at people’s doors.
Bassan, one of the sponsors on the bill, recognized the issues with the bill and said officers would not be sent out, as it would not be a criminal offense. But Bassan said the issue of reckless driving is currently too great to try nothing.
“This is a deterrent in my opinion … We have to do something,” Bassan said. “And, it might not work; it probably won’t work for most people, but (it’s) something.”
The city council will hear the amendment for zero bus fares again at their next meeting on Sept. 30. Currently, a specific date has not yet been selected for the next hearing of the speed cameras ordinance.
Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @madelinepukite
Editor's Note (9/13/21): A previous version of this story said this was the second time the zero bus fares amendment has been deferred but this has since been changed to the correct statement that this was the third time the amendment has been deferred.