What are your experiences with ABQ Ride? How do you feel about the proposed Albuquerque Rapid Transit?
BY M. BRIANNA STALLINGS
I relied on public transportation to get around Burque until 2014. Now that I have a vehicle, my bus use is intermittent, so it was a bit of “Back to the Future” when my editor suggested I write a story about a couple days on the bus.
I decided to take the bus to a series of common destinations, including Nob Hill, the Sunport, the West Side and the Northeast Heights, to examine the efficiency of current ABQ Ride routes. I took the bus twice – once on a Monday and again on a Saturday.
I’d be interested to hear how my experience on ABQ Ride compares to yours. And while you’re at it, let me know whether you think the proposed Albuquerque Rapid Transit is a good or bad thing. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My day started just before noon near Central and Edith. I made it to Nob Hill on the No. 66 Central bus in 30 minutes – an awful long time for the distance, but it was a busy time of day, with lots of people getting on and off at almost every stop. Then I caught the Rapid Ride to San Mateo. Rapid Ride buses go faster, have fewer stops and seat more people – 56 sitting, up to 86 standing.
I barely missed the northbound Central/San Mateo bus, which meant I had to wait 13 minutes for the next one. Waiting at a populated bus stop requires patience and, importantly, insulation from the cacophony of the street. Carry a smartphone with headphones so you can turn up your music to block out unsolicited comments. Never take out your wallet or a pack of cigarettes at a bus stop; it’s an invitation for bumming.
I stopped at the Erna Fergusson Library near San Mateo and Comanche for two reasons: It’s one of few public libraries open on Mondays, and I needed to charge my phone. Some cities have buses and stops with charging outlets, but Albuquerque’s not one of them. I sat in the library for 40 minutes, until my phone got enough of a charge to record my observations on my return trip.
As I waited to head back Downtown, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the southbound San Mateo/Comanche stop featured an up-to-date ABQ Ride system map. In the past, posted schedules were either out of date or nonexistent, and I’d find myself waiting much longer than the schedule indicated. Now, commuters have different ways to ensure prompt arrivals and departures. Some keep schedules on their person. Some call 311. Others use the UNM smartphone app “Where’s my bus?” which tracks all Rapid Ride buses, plus three other routes, and gives your bus’s ETA to your stop.
Although I chose to wing it for my Monday trip, I prepped for my Saturday excursion like a Girl Scout. My supplies ranged from comfortable boots and a cross-body purse to a book bag packed with inclement weather gear (just in case, even though it was sunny), hand sanitizer, a day planner and two notebooks.
The day started at 12:14 p.m. My first stop was the Albuquerque International Sunport. The No. 50 Airport/Downtown bus runs every 30 minutes on weekdays and every hour on Saturday; there is no Sunday service.
Connection information for the Rail Runner and shuttles is posted at the Sunport stop near the baggage claim area. Three riders disembarked when we arrived at 12:45 p.m., but no one got on.
Rather than look like a luggage-less weirdo and wait an hour for the next No. 50 to arrive, I stayed on the bus. We exited toward Yale, where I saw lots of covered bus stops in front of the hotels along the way. Oddly, these shelters dry up almost immediately after you reach Yale’s residential area.
My next destination was the Northwest Transit Center on the West Side. The most efficient way there? The No. 790 Blue Line Rapid Ride at Central and Yale. It runs every 46 minutes or so on Saturdays (again, no Sunday service). Even though I waited only 10 minutes once I got to the stop, others had been waiting much longer. As we waited, they made their frustrations known – in colorful, unprintable language – about the 790’s Saturday service hours. We boarded at 1:05 p.m.
In general, it seems that the farther west you go, the 790’s bus stops provide better access to commercial zones than residential ones. There’s lots of commercial construction, and it’s obviously important for commerce to have stops at Cottonwood Mall, which we hit at 1:40 p.m. We arrived at the Northwest Transit Center at Coors and Ellison 10 minutes later.
From my vantage points, both on the bus and at the transit center, it was apparent that issues of walking, convenience and accessibility seem greater on the West Side than in other neighborhoods. For instance, there’s less sidewalk, which places pedestrians and/or bus patrons dangerously close to vehicular traffic.
Then, it was back on the bus for the trip back. After getting off the No. 790 in Old Town for a lunch break, I took the 766 Rapid Ride to the Alvarado Transportation Center at First and Central, where I boarded the No. 8 Menaul bus around 3 p.m.
The No. 8 is very much a “heart of the city” bus. It’s noisy, crowded and populated with everyday Burqueños – vatos, homeless veterans, giggly mallbound teenage girls and other carless folks.
It took about 45 minutes to get from Downtown to the Montgomery/Tramway Park & Ride, with plenty of stops along the way. It was there that the No. 8 Menaul bus transmogrified into a No. 5 Montgomery/Carlisle bus. Although initially confused, I stayed onboard for the trip back downtown and was back home by 5 p.m.
In both of my bus-riding instances, journeys that would have taken me one to two hours of driving took me between three to five hours. Eight quarters gets you a full-day pass – a definite savings on the expense of gas for my Saturday trip but actually more expensive than the gas it would have taken for me to tool around on Monday.
M. Brianna Stallings is a staff writer at ABQ Free Press. Reach her at Brianna@freeabq.com