Our intrepid reporters seperate myth from fact
Editor’s note: We asked reporters Matt Reisen and Johnny Vizcaino to ride the Central Avenue bus and give us an idea of what it’s like on the bus system. Is it really as bad as some people say? Is the Central bus, as one observer said years ago, a rolling flophouse? Here’s their report.
BY MATTHEW REISEN AND JOHNNY VIZCAINO
Mark Coy remembers vividly the time he broke up a knife fight on the city bus, but don’t let that fool you into thinking all the stories you hear about ABQ Ride are true.
“There’s good people and there’s bad people” Coy said, adding that the bus gets a “bad rap” mostly from those who have not ridden it before.
There’s an undeniable stigma for those Albuquerqueans who have never had to depend upon the city’s transit system to get where they’re going.
Whether it’s based on assumptions about the ridership demographic, bus stop and vehicle cleanliness or reliability, everyone has an opinion.
“I think everybody should at least try it, see how well it works,” Coy said. “I don’t think they would have a negative opinion on it.”
That’s how I found myself planted at the bus stop in front of Frontier restaurant, waiting on the Rapid Ride Green Line down Central Avenue to see what it was like for myself and meet those who couldn’t live without it, like Coy.
A couple on the other side of the bus stop whispered to each other, obviously not on their way to anywhere, and just using the bench as a place to congregate. There was trash strewn on both the ground and bench I sat on, everything from soiled hand-warmers and coffee cups to blunt wraps packaging.
It was no more than two minutes before the Green Line sidled up to the curb and I was surprised at the punctuality. Coy said the Rapid Ride and Route 66 buses on Central are great, but described the other corridors around town as “iffy” and that could use work, as in more buses and frequent pickup times.
“You could sit and wait 45 minutes for the bus,” he said, adding that for people like him who have to get to work, “that’s time lost, that’s money lost.”
Once on the Green Line, I found a seat in the middle section and settled in for the remainder of experience.
First impressions were that it smelled musty and could use a little ventilation. There was also an air of surveillance as I counted at least five dome cameras installed in the ceiling and one at the front, aimed on the driver.
The windows were largely scratched up and there was no use in trying to watch the city go by, so I took in what was on the inside. The seats were thick hard plastic with cushioned centerpieces, made with fabric like the kind found on old-school airline seats.
A mother joked with her daughter across from me, while a man in a business suit relaxed toward the back.
Another man slept against a window, shades and hood tight over his head, while a pair of gentlemen up front, in dirty sweatshirts and ball caps, talked about job prospects and ex-girlfriends.
For Coy, who lives in Los Lunas but works at different jobs all around Albuquerque, the bus is his saving grace as well as a social hub.
“I’ve met some wonderful people in here,” he said, “They’re very polite. I like talking to people, I like being cordial.”
Coy, a double-major alumnus from UNM, has even learned a thing or two, like when he sat beside the engineer of the Rail Runner Express one day and found out how the train he rides from Los Lunas works.
“I always thought the locomotive ran the train, that’s not true,” he said. The engineer explained that each car has its own separate electrical motor, while the locomotive serves as a generator.
And like the train, I found the ride on the bus was largely smooth and silent, with a few bumps akin to plane turbulence. There was a deep feeling of community, as each rider either yelled thank you or waved to the driver as they exited, you could tell this was something of a routine for both rider and driver.
The niceties went further than simple hellos and goodbyes, as I witnessed one man sneeze at the back of the bus, a woman at the front said, “bless you” loud enough to let him know she heard.
I saw no fights, no drunken yelling, or any of those other things the outside population speaks of in passing.
Despite a few bad apples, Coy said there is “absolutely” more good people than bad and even quoted that 95 percent of riders are “nice, decent and honest” people.
My curious glances at other riders were met with warm smiles and hellos. Everyone seemed to have an understanding, respectfully going about their day and seeing each other as one in the same, despite the clothes they wore or which iPhone they held.
The driver seemed to be the connecting thread to all of those who came and went.
Whether he was chit-chatting with Coy about the nuances of the bike rack at the bus’s front or saying “let’s go,” with a tone of subdued impatience at two riders struggling to pull out their bus passes.
Coy described the ABQ Ride bus drivers as “very conscientious” and, having seen drivers-in-training, said the first concern for them is safety.
“You definitely don’t want to have an accident and you don’t want to hurt anybody on the bus obviously,” he said. ”I don’t know how they do it, I’d be a nervous wreck driving the bus.”
Coy noted that the three fights he had seen – and broken up – on the bus, all were aimed at the driver.
“I try to protect the driver,” he said, adding that the drivers often catch a hard time, like the bus system itself, but do a tough job and do it well.
Even in areas stricken with construction for the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, and the resulting traffic, everything runs smoothly, Coy said.
As far as the ART project itself, Coy said he is “waiting to see” rather than believing all the negative hype surrounding the transit project.
At a bus stop across the street and a few blocks down on Central and Yale, it took all of 15 seconds for a curious, intoxicated patron of the bus system to ask what I was doing there.
“Pendejo?” the boozy gentleman inquired to no avail.
“Oye, cabron,” he said, getting my attention and gesturing toward the camera hanging from my shoulder.
“What are you doing here?” the man asked in broken English, while raising his cane like a baseball bat and dropping a plastic bottle of what was presumably a clear kind of liquor.
I explained my desire to ride the bus Downtown, and the man issued something of an apology.
“Soy borracho, pero no soy pendejo,” he said.
The man’s attention shifted from me to another rider waiting to take the bus Downtown. Apparently, there was some familiarity between the two, and as impolite words and gestures were casually exchanged UNM police were called, and the drunken gentleman wandered eastward on central.
Meanwhile, as the Central bus headed west of Downtown on the 66 route, one daily rider named Rick complained about the impact construction is having on people’s day-to-day lives.
A commute that a few months ago took only an hour to make now takes twice as long, he said.
“If you don’t start your whole routine an hour earlier, you’ll never make it,” he said of the now two-hour commute to work. “It sucks.”
But, Rick said he hasn’t lost faith in Albuquerque’s public transit system, and is hopeful that the city will make good on its promise to improve it.
“I’m hoping that when it’s done, it’ll only take a half hour,” he said.
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