For good or ill, Albuquerque Rapid Transit began its service Saturday after $133 million spent, delays, bitter feelings from some Route 66 business owners and a still-unresolved whistleblower lawsuit.
The Albuquerque Journal was there when the buses finally ran along Central Avenue:
To celebrate the occasion, Mayor Tim Keller, along with transit employees and city officials, hopped aboard the 60-foot turquoise buses Saturday afternoon. The mayor took the opportunity to talk with riders, promote “Small Business Saturday” shopping along the way and encourage others to give ART a chance.
“Today marks a new chapter in the journey, in many ways, of our city, of Route 66, and as our community and, hopefully, a journey that is filled with a little bit of prosperity, a little bit of hope and a little bit of optimism,” Keller said during a news conference in Nob Hill. “So far, that is playing out.”
Keller also boasted that the ART buses were packed on the first day, with some people being turned away to wait for the next bus.
“So this is a new problem for our city that we are glad to have,” he said.
It’s interesting Keller became a cheerleader for ART after acknowledging the project was “a bit of a lemon” when he took office from predecessor Richard Berry, who essentially willed ART into existence.
The newspaper reported that ART’s launch was a bit shaky. Buses slowed because of logjams of other buses at scheduled stops.
Though one claimed “no complaints” about the launch, one resident said the ART project’s execution was “very poor.” Businesses along Central Avenue also voiced mixed emotions.
William Archuleta uploaded a video about his experience of riding one of the ART buses on its first day:
In a follow-up story by KOB-TV about the Monday commute, most riders said the buses seemed faster than the previous ones.
However, there’s still a problem of non-authorized vehicles in the bus lanes.
Berry led a ceremonial first ride on ART buses more than two years ago, but those electric vehicles were sidelined because of serious design flaws and ultimately scrapped for traditional diesel buses. Several bus stops also had design flaws.
And last month, a fired traffic engineer filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city and several officials, alleging shortcuts were made with ART at the cost of safety, including two pedestrian deaths.
So while ART is running, its troubles aren’t over. And its existence will be debated by residents and Route 66 fans for years to come.
(Screen-capture image from William Archuleta video of two ART buses during their first official day of service)