Mayor: Albuquerque Rapid Transit “a bit of a lemon”

New Albuquerque mayor Tim Keller this week said problems besetting Albuquerque Rapid Transit are so deep and many, it will take months before the controversial bus system along Central Avenue (aka Route 66) becomes fully operational.

“The problems are much worse than I think anyone believed. … This project is a bit of a lemon,” Keller said during a news conference, according to a report in the Albuquerque Journal.

Political posturing undoubtedly motivated some of Keller’s comments. Keller is a Democrat, and his predecessor, Richard Berry, is a Republican. Berry was ART’s biggest champion, saying a nicer and more efficient rapid-transit system was needed to draw high-tech companies and new residents.

But details provided by Keller and other city officials show the $135 million ART project faces significant problems, according to the Journal and KRQE-TV in Albuquerque:

  • The new electric buses will go only 200 miles per charge, instead of the 275 as promised.
  • Only nine of the 20 electric buses promised by Oct. 4 have arrived.
  • Of the buses that have arrived, each come with two dozen mechanical or other issues. The contractor, BYD, is based in China, but the buses are made in California.
  • The buses have not been certified yet, which is required for the city to be federally reimbursed for their purchase. One bus that went through testing flunked.
  • Chargers the city received shorted out the electrical system on one bus.
  • The city may reconstruct the Washington and Central platform because it’s too close to the intersection. Buses approaching the platform block the intersection. Keller said another station also will need reconfiguration.
  • Inconsistent heights on some of the platforms make it problematic for wheelchair users.

Keller said contractors have pledged to fix the problems. Platform issues will need another six to eight weeks of construction. But the bus issues may take months or even a year to fix.

One of the biggest issues is the city still has not received a $75 million federal grant to help pay for ART. The city expects to meet with Federal Transit Administration officials about that  next month.

Berry, contacted by the Journal, downplayed the issues in a statement:

“ART has been acknowledged by outside experts as one of the best designed transit projects in America, and that hasn’t changed. As I read the list of issues, I believe that taxpayers have contractual protections in place, and I am confident that the Keller administration can work with the bus vendor and others to resolve the issues and get the system up and running in a timely manner.”

Berry is rumored to be considering a run for New Mexico governor this year. If ART problems  persist into the summer, a gubernatorial bid by him can be considered doomed. One cannot run for governor of New Mexico and win without the support of Albuquerque voters.

(Screen-capture image of an ART bus at a newly completed station from an Albuquerque Journal video in November)

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