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“Thank you for keeping the faith,” Councilor Robert Gibson said as he welcomed dozens of guests who have supported a transit system for Los Alamos County throughout the years to a celebratory buffet lunch on Friday.After decades of effort, the system is now a reality, with the official launch of Atomic City Transit Friday.Gibson acknowledged, thanked and congratulated all of the people who have devoted hours to bringing public transit to the county, including individuals, elected representatives, county employees and the New Mexico Department of Transportation.“On behalf of Secretary Faught, I congratulate Los Alamos,” said Frank Sharpless, bureau chief for the DOT’s Bureau of Transit and Rail. “All of us at DOT are impressed with your achievement.”“What an awesome thing,” Traffic Division Manager Nancy Talley said. “It’s free, it’s simple and it’s working really, really well.”Talley added that just one year ago, the system was far from becoming a reality, but with the support of the Los Alamos County Council, the New Mexico Department of Transportation, the North Central Regional Transit District and New Mexico’s congressional delegation, “a great system has come into being.”She commended the Transportation Board and the work of Khalil Spencer for helping to envision the bus system, which has seen ridership grow to nearly double the projected number in the first four months of operation.“This is a great day,” Spencer said. “With the world’s fuel situation, it’s time to get out ahead of the problem with some options.”“Prior to the county taking over the LA Bus system, there were about 800 riders per week in September,” Talley said. “Now there are about 3,000.”Transit Manager Mike Davis brought the transit expertise to get the buses rolling to Los Alamos, and has been fine-tuning the routes, adjusting times and places, every two weeks throughout the fall and early winter.Davis said that he was very proud of the entire staff of the transit department, from drivers to dispatchers to maintenance crews and office staff, for rising to the challenge of creating the system.“I’m here to congratulate Los Alamos County on a good job. What a success,” said Josette Lucero, executive director for the North Central Regional Transit District (NCRTD). “I’ve been waiting 15 years for this to happen.”She said that the NCRTD was coordinating its routes to mesh with the Atomic City routes, and has just instituted new mid-day routes to Los Alamos.“I want to commend your leadership,” Lucero said. “Tony Mortillaro, Jim West – Nancy Talley was a ‘roads lady’ and we turned her into a ‘transit lady.’”Retired scientist Dave Thomson has been working to bring a public transportation to the county since 1974, when the public transit advisory committee was first formed. From a privately owned system started by Wes Wright with four used school buses, through the beginnings of the all-volunteer LA Bus, Thomson has been a leading advocate for public transportation in the county.“We tried to serve as much of the lab as we could, and we tried to serve as much of the community as we could,” Thomson said. “By the late eighties, we had built it up to 100 riders a day each way.”The old system survived with the help of an annual contract with the county and with Federal Section 18 grants.“The big thing is if they can keep these riders coming,” Thomson said. “Our target goal was 200 riders a day (on five routes plus school activities buses).”The service meets three of the county’s goals, Gibson said: “to improve transportation, improve environmental quality and maintain essential services.”He added that simply by getting cars off of the road, not only would traffic be lightened but also wear and tear on roads and air quality will be improved.“This is one of the things that really contributes to a sense of place,” Councilor Fran Berting said. “It makes it feel as though people care, and the city cares. A sense of place is rather an esoteric, abstract concept, but this grounds it and gives it some meaning.”Speeches and thanks were followed by tours of the newest Atomic City Transport bus, complete with its “wrap” of blue, green and orange paint, wheelchair ramp and Atomic City logo.The bus was purchased with county funds, and additional buses are on order, to be paid for with federal assistance.Two of the county’s older residents, Dorene Marsh and Roberta Grasier, navigated the ramp with ease.“We really think this is great,” Marsh said. “This is something we’ve needed here in town for a long time ... I’m really impressed with that ramp,” Marsh said.
RAMP (Photo right) June Ryti prepares to exit the bus on the handicap ramp during a tour of Atomic City Transit’s newest bus Friday.