Two summers ago, the Foundation issued “Throwing Taxpayers Under the Bus,” our examination of the folly that is “Albuquerque Rapid Transit.”
Since then, the justifications for ART have gotten only weaker. In “Fixing ABQ: Fiscal Policy,” our new assessment of ways to right-size the Duke City’s budget, we explore the city’s Transit Department in depth. The agency’s FY 2017 budget was $49.1 million, with a disturbingly tiny portion of the sum coming from riders. In 2014, the latest year for which data are available, farebox revenue covered none of the system’s capital expenditures and a paltry 9 percent of operating costs. That share has likely worsened in subsequent years, given the ridership data below.
It is clear that the Transit Department is unable to provide an affordable, efficient bus system, and is more concerned with social-engineering projects such as ART than understanding the significant changes underway in urban mobility.
A revolution in on-demand vehicles has begun, automated automobiles are just around the corner, and there is even the possibility of flying cars. As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, very soon, drivers “may no longer be drivers, relying instead on hailing a driverless car on demand, and if they do decide to buy, they will likely share the vehicle — by renting it out to other people when it isn’t in use.” Technological change is coming to government’s trains and buses as well. Given the “extraordinary cost of transporting the elderly and people with disabilities,” The Washington Post found in 2016, “transit agencies across the country [are] eyeing Uber and other app-based ride services as alternatives.” According to sharing-economy reporter Alison Griswold:
Uber and Lyft have been pushing into public transit for a while. Uber struck a deal with Summit, New Jersey, to provide subsidized rides to commuters from their homes to the local train station … and has hammered out similar transit agreements with cities including San Francisco, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Cincinnati. Still other towns, like Innisfil, Canada, and Altamonte Springs, Florida, have hired Uber to serve as their de facto public transit system. Lyft’s public transit deals have included the Go Centennial project in Colorado and a collaboration with Dallas Area Rapid Transit in Texas.
Instead of maintaining — and expanding — its current routes and vehicles, Albuquerque’s next mayor should recognize that the future will look substantially different than the past. It should begin to work with nimble, efficient entrepreneurs to secure point-to-point transportation for disabled and/or low-income residents who need transportation. A new transit architecture, based on the principles and flexibility and affordability — and contracted out to capable, technologically savvy firms — should be adopted. Service will vastly improve, and taxpayers will no longer bear the burden of a costly and increasingly unworkable monopoly.