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Two city buses arrive at the Central Avenue and Unser Boulevard transit center.


City council continues to postpone decision on fate of zero-fare bussing

The Albuquerque City Council continues to stall the final decision on whether or not to continue zero-fare bussing and replace it with a pass system, deferring the ordinance for the eighth time on Wednesday, Jan. 18. This time, a third floor substitution was presented that combined the original pass system ordinance with two other ordinances meant to add additional security measures to the transit system.

The newest floor substitution has since replaced any specific language regarding fares with a study on how to equitably distribute passes. If the ordinance is passed in its current iteration, the zero-fare pilot program would continue through June, after which a study on the program with recommendations on how to continue the program as well as a cost-benefit analysis of the creation of a fare box and distribution of bus passes shall be presented to the Council by September 2023.

“The analysis shall include, but is not limited to, reviewing a method for creating and distributing passes that is equitable and accessible for all persons, especially those qualified as transit dependent, the process for applying for, receiving and replacing passes, the terms of the passes, the features that shall be included on the passes, and the ability to utilize technology as e-passes, apps, pass readers, and for applying for distributing and issuing and enforcing the use of passes,” the newest floor substitute of the build reads.

As well as allocating money for the study of a pass program, the ordinance also allocates $1 million to enhance transit security; it also establishes transit security officers as law enforcement officers. Finally, the ordinance refines requirements to apply for eligibility to ride Sun Van, Albuquerque’s paratransit service, creating “the most streamlined” application process available under federal law, according to Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn.

Ordinance O-22-47, originally co-sponsored by Dan Lewis and Klarissa Peña, proposes that the city institute a bus pass program wherein passengers could ride for free so long as they apply for a pass using a photo ID. In its original version and first floor substitute, those without photo ID would have had to apply for a 30-day nonrenewable pass. Those without a pass would have had to pay a $2 fare for the Sun Van paratransit program and a $1 fare for all other bus programs in town.

“There’s story after story of bus drivers who are unhappy who attribute that to the current way we’re running things. People say the bus stops are dirty, the buses are dirty, and I can’t recommend my own daughter, my family riding the bus. I tell them it’s not safe, and so why as a city councilor would I recommend anyone riding the bus if I can’t recommend my own family to ride this bus system right now,” Lewis said.

Public comment focused on the convenience and equity of the currently existing zero-fare program. One community member, Althea May Atherton, said they spoke with bus drivers who were apprehensive about the pass program and pointed out that a pay raise should be the real priority as far as improving conditions for bus drivers.

“I think that zero-fare is working great as it is, and in a time when the Albuquerque ride system is planning to suspend some service due to the lack of bus drivers, we should not be adding any arduous burdens to the shoulders of our taxed, and frankly, undercompensated bus drivers,” Atherton said.

Another community member, Sarah Manning, voiced concerns that the pass program was a form of undue surveillance rather than a truly effective form of crime prevention.

“If you engineer a pass system that requires electronic surveillance, essentially of who gets on a bus, where they go, what the bus number is, what the route number is, what time of day — that’s almost surveillance, and I truly hope we don’t go there. We want to make Albuquerque a modern, comfortable, welcoming city, and not trusting people enough to ride a bus does not stop fentanyl use, it does not stop petty crime, it does not stop people driving,” Manning said.

The ordinance will be heard again at the next city council meeting which will be held on Monday, Feb. 6 at 5:00 p.m. at the Albuquerque Government Center.

Zara Roy is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at copychief@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle 

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