The Albuquerque City Council is expected to vote next week on a proposal to end the city’s zero-fare bus pilot project based on security concerns that have emerged since Jan. 1, when rides became free for all riders.
Klarissa Peña, a Democrat and a co-sponsor of the original zero-fare pilot, collaborated with Republican Dan Lewis on the new proposal — a good sign their plan is as reasonable as it is necessary. Free rides will still be available to anyone who applies for a pass.
“We knew we had to make some changes,” Lewis told the Journal’s Editorial Board Thursday, citing internal studies, as well as a letter from New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas to the council indicating the free bus fare policy was contributing to crime.
Lewis cited a 25% increase in police calls at buses and bus stops — around 606 a month — since the zero-fare program went into effect.
Balderas shared his concerns in a televised interview in August, telling KRQE-TV shoplifters were using the public bus system as their getaway vehicle. “I think that the no fee for riders seemed like a well-intentioned policy, but there has to be safety requirements,” he said. “In other words, you can’t just let everyone on the bus with stolen equipment.”
And Peña cited an “alarming” August incident in which a rider fired a shotgun on a bus, saying the city needs to “make sure people feel more comfortable” on the transit system.
Peña and Lewis told the Journal Editorial Board they want to preserve access to free rides — they envision passes easily available at City Hall, through various nonprofit service providers, large employers, hospitals, etc. — but also address safety and the criminal element by having Applicants show their ID to get a pass, and including a tracking number on each pass issued. Their legislation leaves it up to the administration to determine if/how that tracking number is monitored. Riders who don’t have a free pass will pay a reinstated fare of $1, with revenue going into an investment account that will fund driver salary increases. Those raises, along with safety, are essential to addressing the scarcity of bus drivers. (Lewis said many who have quit have cited safety as the reason.)
Lewis and Peña stressed the flexibility of their bill, which would allow for short-term changes on an experimental basis. As long as it’s easy to apply for and get a free bus pass, and temporary ones are available at places people can find themselves stranded such as ERs and shelters, we agree with their updated policy. Does this guarantee that all buses will be crime-free? Of course not. But the city should do what it can to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers. And it certainly should not be operating getaway vehicles for suspects fleeing a crime.
This editorial first appeared in the . It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.