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.