Albuquerque’s Ground-Breaking BRT Project Makes Its Maiden Voyage on Route 66

Albuquerque's ART bus rapid transit was built on the expectation of receiving $75 million in federal funds. But now that funding is uncertain. Photo: Michael Kodransky
Albuquerque's ART bus rapid transit was built on the expectation of receiving $75 million in federal funds. But now that funding is uncertain. Photo: Michael Kodransky

It took some serious political fortitude for Albuquerque to reach the milestone it crossed this weekend, when the city launched service on its nine-mile “ART” bus rapid transit line.

To free ART buses from traffic congestion, the city carved out a center-running transitway on Central Avenue, Albuquerque’s main drag. Like any project that upends the status quo, ART stirred up fierce opposition, led in this case by some local business owners and Koch-funded astroturf groups.

Through it all, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, a Republican, didn’t waver. ART debuted with a transitway design that the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy rates higher than any other BRT project in the nation. (ITDP will rate service on ART later, after it’s been running for six months.)

With dedicated center-running transit lanes, ART buses aren’t slowed down by drivers pulling up to the curb or turning right. Platforms are level with the floor of the bus, and passengers pay before boarding and can use any door, cutting down on the time buses spend at stops. Special traffic signals will hold green lights for buses and limit the time they spend stopped at reds.

These improvements will speed transit on the city’s busiest bus corridor. Central Avenue carries 42 percent of Albuquerque’s transit trips — about 15,000 per day. The busway will improve trips for low-income workers while providing a spine of high-quality transit to anchor new development.

ITDP’s Michael Kodransky pointed to the importance of zoning changes that Albuquerque implemented in tandem with ART. For development near ART, the city nixed minimum parking requirements and allowed mixed-use buildings.

“They’re already seeing new investment coming up,” said Kodransky. “Over $300 million of mixed-use development is already moving into the corridor.”

Some aspects of the project are still incomplete. A few ticket vending machines have yet to be installed, and the city will be working on landscaping through the beginning of 2018.

Not all of the new ART buses are in service yet either, though the city says they will be by the end of the month. And while the design of ART is the best in the country, getting the operations right is a whole other challenge, says Kodransky. The city has increased frequencies to run buses every 7.5 minutes during peak hours and at least every 15 minutes between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Still, waits of up to 15 minutes are on the long side for a major transit route.

It remains to be seen whether ART will make sprawling Albuquerque a more walkable, transit-accessible city. But dedicating a bus lane on historic Route 66 sends a strong message that change is coming. And despite initial resistance, Kodransky says, the business community has since embraced the project.

“They really sold it as something that the whole city could be proud of,” he said.

11 thoughts on Albuquerque’s Ground-Breaking BRT Project Makes Its Maiden Voyage on Route 66

  1. The ride in those BYD electric buses seems to be nice. I’d be interested in a follow up with regards to maintenance and fuel savings over a meaningful period. There’s also at least one American manufacturer I know of: Proterra.

  2. The headway outside the context of total trip reduction is somewhat meaningless, but for only 15,000 passengers it doesn’t seem awful either. The $126M investment for those riders does though. That’s not a lot of bang for the buck.

  3. 15,000 is quite respectable for a transit corridor, actually. If you want some perspective, say those 15,000 people were driving cars and parking them in publicly owned lots. A single parking place costs about $600/year (initial costs annualized), and there’s always at least 3 empty spots for every full spot. So make that $2400/year. Multiply that by 15,000, and you get $36 million a year. After 3-4 years, it’s more expensive than transit.

    Obviously most people don’t park on publicly owned streets/lots, so this is somewhat theoretical. But we all still pay for parking through reduced wages and increased rent, goods, and services. This is why transit (especially buses) makes so much sense.

  4. BYD and Proterra buses are both manufactured in Southern California. Proterra is an American company, if that’s what you mean. However, Proterra does not make 60-foot buses.

  5. Woo!! For a city of 500K and an ABQ-Santa Fe greater metro area of about a million people, my home town is *finally* getting on board with serious transit.

    Though I can’t say for certain, the back lash against this project seemed greater than most transit projects that I’ve followed. It was downright hysterical at times. I’m confident ART’s performance, in both improving public transit and spurring development in the city, will make believers out of those who were initially against this project.

    Can’t wait to visit my home town some time in the near future and give ART a try. I have high hopes.

  6. I agree. 126 million is a lot of money, but nothing compared to most subways and light rail lines, where the cost is usually measured in billions and ridership is not much higher. This works out to about 120,000 people per billion dollars, which would be one of the most cost effective rail systems in the country. In Seattle, for example, we’ve spent several billion, and the train carries about 80,000 people a day. We are by no means the worst in terms of delivering value. In San Jose they spent a couple billion dollars, and have less than 30,000 riders a day (and it is extremely expensive to run). In Dallas, they spent five billion, and the trains carry 100,000. These are all fairly typical — only a handful of very dense American cities ever get really high ridership from their train systems (streetcars also do really poorly for the money spent). In terms of ridership, this is actually a very good bang for the buck.

    But ridership isn’t everything. It is the starting point (without it you have nothing) but there are plenty of systems (especially streetcars) where most of your riders are no better off than they were before. So the big question is whether it actually saves time for the riders. Based on the analysis by ITDP, it sounds like it will. My guess is the overall value of this system by that measurement (time saved per rider multiplied by the number of riders, divided by the cost) is very good, which is extraordinary for a city this small and sprawling.

  7. HDR has a lot of projects across the country where they have problems during the startup and testing phase, typically the agency project manager gets fired and HDR gets more and more change orders. That’s how they fix the problem. For example on the Tucson Street Car project they had more than 30 change orders. You the taxpayer pays for this.

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