Albuquerque’s Fledgling BRT Has Problems, But Don’t Panic

Photo:  Richard Berry
Photo: Richard Berry

Albuquerque’s long-awaited bus rapid transit project — “ART” — was set to open with full service this spring.

But the city recently got some bad news: The electric buses manufactured specifically for ART are behind schedule. Several flaws have been flagged in the vehicles — mostly minor — that need to be fixed before the new bus service can be fully operational. There are also some issues with the stations.

The city’s newly elected mayor, Tim Keller, described the project as “a bit of a lemon,” saying he didn’t know when ART would be operational.

The situation has gripped the local press, but Michael Kodransky at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, an expert in bus rapid transit systems, says the wrinkles can be ironed out of ART.

“There are hiccups in all these systems,” he told Streetsblog. “It’s about working through the hiccups and managing the change.”

The city ordered specially designed buses with doors on both sides, which enables them to pick up passengers from the median-aligned bus stops and conventional curbside stops.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, the bus manufacturer, California-based Build Your Dreams, has only delivered nine of the 22 buses it was supposed to have ready by October. Some of the buses that have been delivered have defects like cracked battery cages and wheelchair belts that are not uniformly located.

In addition, some of the bus mirrors are hitting the structures that hold up station roofs. And some station platforms are not built at the perfect grade, which can create problems for wheelchair users disembarking from a bus, according to the Journal. One intersection along the route may need to be redesigned to reduce the chance that turning drivers will hit the station.

These are not major problems, said Kodransky, and the city should be capable of fixing them. Albuquerque has some leverage with Build Your Dreams: The city doesn’t have to fork over its $22 million payment until the order is complete.

Since ART isn’t Keller’s project — it was initiated by his predecessor, Richard Berry — Kodransky thinks there may be a political impetus behind the negative spin.

“I watched the press conference that he gave and he started out by saying this project is a lemon,” Kodransky said. “All systems within the first six months require finessing as you’re figuring out how to make it work right. To call it a lemon, I would say that’s not fair.”

The center-running ART busway design received a “gold” rating from ITDP — the highest ever awarded to an American bus rapid transit route.

Berry just left office at the end of 2017, and it’s possible he rushed to cut the ribbon on ART before the timing was right. Now, it’s not clear whether Keller wants the project to succeed.

“Change is hard,” said Kodransky. “Within one administration it’s always hard to manage change. Between administrations, it’s even tougher.”

  • galisteo99

    Mr Kodransky, you know nothing of the process we citizens have had to go through the last several years with this project. The new Mayor’s comments were kind if anything, when he could have been far more direct, far more negative and far more critical of the former city administration. The former mayor lied repeatedly about this project’s funding, about the amount the Feds would cover, (even after it was reduced by 20 million) and lied to us and the press about if the check was in hand. It still isn’t. He consistently said the money is approved, on the way. We were lied to by the administration staff who oversaw this project. Were sold lemons and worse from the various contractors including the station designers, the GC, the BFD bus company out of China and others. Businesses along historic Rte 66 Central Avenue went under belly up. Businesses that had been there for decades, and they are still closing even this week. Many people in the disability community including the Blind Commission, members of the Deaf community and folks with mobility disabilities who use canes and wheelchairs held meetings with city staff and with the consultants to educate and advise about problems in the buses and the stations and overall site. That was ignored ultimately. The fixes like reconstructing entire station platforms, and intersections, realigning traffic light poles, reconstructing the roadway slopes, are NOT minor and are NOT affordable in a city and state that ranks at the bottom of every economic indicator nationwide. The new Mayor came into his job discovering a 40 million deficit from the former mayor. Call that political? And now he and we, have to deal with the messes of ART, the lies, the cost overruns to fix, the misrepresentation, the lack of public input and involvement due to no communication from previous Mayor/admin. Mr. Kodransky, please don’t speak about things of which you know so little. No one in this city could give one shit about the ‘Gold’ award given out very prematurely for a mess of an ego project.

  • Sean Shen

    Why not use the regular gas powered bus? Its cheaper and more mature

  • The money was promised by the Feds. It wasn’t a lie. The Trump Administration isn’t honoring it right now but they haven’t withdrawn it either

  • Having followed this story from up here in Los Alamos, the last thing ART needed was more problems. Its probably the most-hated project in the Duke City. As I said in a related article, the Duke City has come to appreciate its superwide arterials and the speeding they have encouraged and the sheer size of Albuquerque has been built on stroads. This is a painful paradigm shift in progress and any SNAFUs, and there have been many, are savored by opponents.

  • Dedicated bus lanes? Good question. Albuquerque already had buses.

  • TakeFive

    I agree with Angie; those funds were approved by Congress; pathetic politics sadly but the money should come… soon?

    I assume you meant BYD buses. Their prices were so attractive that the company was flooded with orders which all have some level of customization with a new manufacturing facility still getting up to speed. Denver RTD is playing the same waiting game on buses that carry 45,000 riders a day.

  • galisteo99

    Please read this:
    https://www.abqjournal.com/1116887/mayor-outlines-major-problems-with-art-including-inability-to-charge-buses.html
    These are just a few pastes, the whole article and video is much more detailed:

    “The problems are much worse than I think anyone believed. … This project is a bit of a lemon,” Keller said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference.
    “Out of the nine buses that we’ve received, we have found issues associated with those buses, everything from mechanical failures to some inconsistencies in how the buses are put together,” Rael said.

    City officials are also concerned with what they’re calling design and construction flaws along the ART route, one so serious city officials are exploring the possibility of reconfiguring an intersection.

    “The previous administration told the public it would be done by the end of their term,” Keller told reporters…“In reality, it would be unrealistic to give a firm completion date. There have been too many issues that we’ve found, too many issues to tackle and too many players and contractors involved at this point to be able to give a definitive date, and at the end of the day there have already been too many broken promises with this project.”

    The city has been banking on $75 million from the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Program for the project, but that funding agreement has not yet been signed.

    “The chargers themselves are not operable because they’ve used what looks like Chinese equipment and probably a different standard for how they built these boxes,” Rael said.

    At the Washington and Central platform, for example, the platform is so close to the intersection that a bus coming from the east side going west can’t make the approach without taking up the entire intersection, Rael said. He said the city is considering reconfiguring that entire intersection.

    There are also problems with inconsistent heights on some of the platforms and the distance between the platform and where buses stop, both of which create problems for wheelchair access.

  • galisteo99

    I meant BFD. That’s what we call it here!

  • swtmix

    @@galisteo99:disqus

    And of course every other public and private project ever undertaken has always come in on time, on budget and worked flawlessly from day 1.

  • Boris Badenov

    Not to mention that it has destroyed pedestrian and bicycle access to and across these new barriers! Most side streets (commonly used by non-motorized traffic) now have huge barriers blocking the intersection. And I mean huge, raised well above street level concrete barriers! Forcing foot and bike traffic to use either larger arterial streets or cross mid-block. Or cross to the “bus stop” climb the ramp, walk half a block out of your way, go down the incline at the other end and cross the other half of the road. Nobody is going to go that far out of their way, especially if the platform has anybody on it. It’s not wide enough to handle bike and pedestrians.

  • Dean Savas

    This guy Mr. K. has no clue, no credibility. I’ll pay his way to ABQ so he can see the reality of ART firsthand.

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