Giving the green light to free bus rides and a promise of protections for proposed soccer stadium area residents are a couple of the tidbits that the Albuquerque City Council tackled during its September meetings, including one meeting during the harvest moon.
After months of analysis, there will finally be free city bus rides for all. Some bus rides have already been free for students 25 and younger and for folks 60 and older. It costs two bucks for a day pass or one buck for a single bus ride now, but as of Jan. 1, this zero-fare pilot program will give free bus rides for all. City councilors put $3 million aside to offset the increased expenses and revenue lost earlier this year.
Holding back the approval were public safety concerns that, with added ridership, there would be a need for more security. At the Sept. 20 meeting, councilors heard a presentation by the Department of Municipal Development’s security division that calmed their fears about increased security problems if everyone can ride the bus for free. The report went over staffing levels, existing incident data and the city’s three-fold approach, which includes transit officers at the Alvarado Transit Center, transit officers riding buses and mobile units responding to calls. There are 31 security officers currently working the buses, with another five in training, five open positions and another 10 security jobs opening up. Data presented showed that, out of thousands of riders, about 135 transit-related incidents occurred during the first six months of 2021. Thirty-two of those incidents actually happened on the buses, with most incidents happening at the bus stops. Only three of those incidents ended in arrests.
Support for the free rides has been widespread, with several speakers calling it a game-changer for city residents and saying this will have a positive impact across the community for those who rely on the city bus system to conduct their daily lives.
One resident took to the streets, held up signs across from Councilor Pat Davis’ Nob Hill home, and then put out the photos on Twitter. Councilor Davis commented lightheartedly about the constituent and said that Albuquerque will now become one of the largest zero-fare transit systems in the country.
Mayor Tim Keller released a statement saying his administration looks forward to this important pilot project being implemented with support from community members, bus drivers and public safety.
Making Peace With A Possible Soccer Stadium
Councilors approved a resolution requiring the city and United New Mexico soccer franchise to initiate a Community Benefits Agreement with stakeholders in the neighborhood where a proposed stadium could be built. Councilor Isaac Benton said this measure is being put in place to lay the groundwork if the voters approve the $50 million gross receipts tax revenue bond that will be on the Nov. 2 ballot. If the bond is approved, then the site will be chosen. Once that is done, then the Community Benefits Agreement will be initiated with the neighborhoods directly impacted. Some of the many benefits listed in the resolution include a community health care facility, spaces for childcare, an incubator for artists and small businesses, an after-school soccer program, affordable housing, jobs and workforce development.
Not Today Mobile Speed Enforcements
Councilors avoided making an unpopular call by kicking a decision down the road to put automatic speed cameras on the streets. These are not red-light cameras catching cars flying through intersections when it is not their turn. These are cameras set up to monitor speed in order to enforce speed limits. Albuquerque drivers seem to have a problem with being team players and don’t like going the posted speed limits for the safety of all. Speed cameras can conserve police resources and could result in more consistent and unbiased traffic enforcement, according to the city ordinance. The fine would be 100 bucks to the registered owner.
The ordinance says that in 2019 there were 97 people who were killed while moving around our city, making this the highest number of traffic fatalities in more than 10 years. Along with other dangerous driving behaviors, excessive speed plays a role in 25 percent or more of all fatal crashes. This makes Albuquerque one of the top 20 most dangerous cities for all road users, especially for people walking and bicycling. During 2018 and 2019, there were slight increases in crash fatalities involving motor vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles. But pedestrian fatalities increased four times during these two years. In any given year, pedestrian versus car deaths represents half of all traffic deaths in the metro area. The Council is set to take this up at the Oct. 5 meeting.
A couple of interesting items deferred until the October meetings include a memorial in support of area law enforcement agencies’ ongoing efforts to address crime. Another proposes that the director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency report to the Council the training status of each board member. Apparently, there are lengthy training sessions, and the pandemic has made it hard for in-person training.
Council President Cynthia Borrego said thank you to the recent appointments to the city’s boards and commissions: Lily Hofstra to the Early Head Start Program Governance Committee; Deb Thrall to the Municipal Golf Advisory Board; John Garrity to the Urban Enhancement Trust Fund; Jeffrey Blair to the Para Transit Advisory Board; Donald G. Meaders to the Open Space Advisory Board; Catherine Nicolaou to the Information Services Committee; Talal Saint-Lot to the Metropolitan Parks and Recreation Advisory Board; Mary E. Moskai to the Library Advisory Board and Robert Joshua Bacon to the Balloon Museum Board of Trustees.
The next meeting of the City Council is set for a Zoom meeting at 3pm, Monday Oct. 5. Watch it at GOV-TV at cabq.gov or on Comcast Cable Channel 16 or on the city’s YouTube channel.