The potential (or lack thereof) of mass transit in Albuquerque

Readers of the West Side edition of the Albuquerque Journal were treated to an effusive editorial praising the recently-begun development of a Rail Runner-related transit center at Montano and the railroad tracks. While the paper argues that plowing more taxpayer dollars into this project is a good thing, I have another take that I expressed in a letter to the editor:

I would love to believe the hype that “mass transit is where it’s at” and that the new North Valley transit hub will be some kind of boon to the local economy, but history and data say otherwise.

When all is said and done, New Mexico taxpayers will spend an astonishing $1.3 billion on the train. Despite my organization’s opposition to the project, I have ridden it and cannot recall a single major business that has sprung up to serve the train and its customers. Certainly, no business has generated anywhere near the tax money to pay for even a significant portion of the system. There is no reason to believe that the $7.1 million transit center will be better investment of scarce tax dollars.

And, much like the electric automobile, mass transit has been the “next big thing” for decades. In fact, according to federal data provided by transportation analyst Wendell Cox transit’s market share (of transit and motor vehicles) has fallen since the 1950s. In 1955, transit’s market share was over 10%. Today, transit’s share hovers below 2% nationally and is not growing despite rapid spending growth.

The fact is that unlike a car, no matter how good the system and how wishful the thinking, transit cannot get you to wherever you want to go, when you need to be there especially in spread out Western cities like Albuquerque.

While this may seem like mere pontificating, I have gained some firsthand experience of the problems with transit. A family member has moved here from out of town and is living with us. She has been looking for work in retail and this has led her to jobs at Coronado Center. Let’s just say that the bus schedules to Coronado on a Saturday or Sunday from the West Side do not fit the needs of retail workers.

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12 Replies to “The potential (or lack thereof) of mass transit in Albuquerque”

  1. Albuquerque has a population of approximately 530,000. I think we have about 150 licensed taxis in the the city. Any comparably sized city in Latin America, with the exception of a city in Cuba, would have 5000 to 15000 taxis. In most parts of Latin America, taxis are public transportation and mass transit ,with extremely competitive fares. If public transportation in NM were not monopolized, there would be greater variety, greater choice and better service.

  2. If you think it’s bad in Albuquerque, try living on the east side of the state…very limited mass transit.

  3. I rode commuter trains in Chicago for years because they were faster than driving downtown. When the Rail Runner opened the trip to Santa Fe took about an hour, roughly comparable with driving. Since then the added stations have slowed the ride to about an hour and a half, and the new North Valley station will add a few more minutes.

  4. Today’s “Wall Street Journal” has an article by Senior Cato Fellow Randal O’Toole in which he says: “Department of Energy data show that in 1970 cars used twice as much energy per passenger mile as did mass transit. Today they are practically tied, and in a few years driving will use less energy and emit less pollution than public transit.”

    Just as I said to someone a few years ago, we already have “mass transit” all over the country in the form of cheap cars which almost everyone can afford. And as Charles says, if the taxi industry here were deregulated, taxis would be a reasonable alternative for those who cannot afford a car.

    1. Even without a true free market, we can easily tell which transportation modes are sensible and which are not. The lack of market share relative to investment is a strong indicator that transit is not as viable as some would like. In fact, New York City really makes transit look better than it really is.

      1. That’s a false premise, you’re still loading the deck politically.

        Libertarian’s are not against socialist/communist style policy when it comes to roads.

          1. Tolling helps with maintenance expenses. Even Randal O’Toole has admitted that roads are there regardless of economic conditions. So it’s still a false premise that you’re promoting.

          2. Toll roads are being built as well. Eliminate the gas tax and sell all roads off to private businesses and/or the states and local governments. Bring it on. Rail transit will disappear outside of NYC and a few other major cities.

          3. What you want is a double standard where roads have government protection and railroads have no protection.

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