NCRTD seeks input on Blue Bus

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Transit > Public asked to assess schedules for five-year plan

By Arin McKenna

The North Central Regional Transit District celebrated its fifth anniversary in 2007 and is now looking ahead to the next five years.
To that end, NCRTD has hired the KFH Group and Southwest Planning and Marketing to conduct 10 public meetings to get feedback and service enhancement suggestions from its riders. NCRTD staff will use that information to update its five-year service plan.
“We are hoping that these public meetings will generate more interest in the service, as well as knowledge of the demands and needs of the general public that we’re currently serving or not serving, because that’s critical for us to improve our service,” said NCRTD transit operations manager Mike Kelly.
NCRTD has covered more than 10 thousand square miles in North Central New Mexico and provided more than 185,000 free passenger trips in the last fiscal year. Routes connect communities and pueblos within Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Taos counties.
The free service is funded though a 70-percent gross receipts tax and 30-percent federal grants. NCRTD’s FY2012 budget was just over $11 million.
NCRTD recently received the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) 2012 Transportation System of the Year award.
Southwest Planning President Chris Cordova conducted a meeting in Los Alamos Tuesday with the help of his son Charles. The one person who attended was not a current rider but someone asking for more information about the service.
“We’re really interested in putting together a five-year plan to make the system better,” Cordova said. “It’s relatively new in the scheme of transportation issues. It’s been increasing ridership in double digits for many years. It slowed down a little bit this last year, but there’s a lot of things they can do to refine the service, make the routes better.”
One question NCRTD is asking Los Alamos residents is whether the midday service currently available to supplement the NMDOT Park & Ride is sufficient. Routes run between Los Alamos and Española and Pojoaque. Ridership for the 12-month period ending in April was 1,532.
Cordova is also seeking feedback on safety and comfort, both on the buses and at the stops, whether the schedules are easy to read and what is the best means of notifying riders of changes. Riders are also asked how they suggest funding the service when the GRT increment expires in 2023 and whether they would be willing to pay for premium services such as express routes.
Cordova said that most meetings have been well attended, providing a variety of feedback.
One of the challenges in developing a new plan is meeting the needs of a diverse population. Routes in areas such as Edgewood mainly serve state and county employees commuting to work. Rural ridership is most often to local communities such as Española and comprised of more occasional riders.
Residents of the pueblos are asking for routes to connect them to educational institutions such as Northern New Mexico College. Older residents are asking for better access to medical facilities for routine medical care. Many people attending the Taos meeting were most interested in reducing their environmental impact.
“The system is very diverse, depending on where you’re at,” Cordova said. “Hopefully we can solidify a lot of those issues and define better in the next five years how to unify those needs.”
Kelly stressed making better connections to local and regional transit systems.
“We realize we have to make some better connections so if someone wants to say, go from here to Santa Fe to catch the Rail Runner to Albuquerque, there should be the ability to do that with ease rather than with difficulty,” Kelly said. “If we can provide good enough service so that people could choose not to take their car or pickup on a 60 mile trip because RTD’s already going there, then we’re reducing even more vehicles and congestion on the highway.”
Cordova said the meetings are also revealing some of the strengths of the system, such as a strong interface between riders and drivers on commuter routes.
“It was great talking about how nobody gets stranded in Santa Fe. If somebody’s not at their stop, the drivers ask somebody to text him, find out if he’s late. You don’t want to leave someone 70 miles away from their home because he’s five minutes late,” Cordova said. “So the bus drivers have been very helpful and very communicative with their riders. It’s nice in this day and age.”
Drivers also stay in communication with dispatch to make sure that riders make their connections if a bus is delayed.
According to Kelly, improving communication is also an important element of the next five years. NCRTD has been upgrading radio communication, but drivers still rely on cell phones to contact dispatchers in many areas.
Los Alamos Atomic City Transit and the NCRTD are currently partnering to purchase Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and Automatic Vehicle Location software, which will allow dispatchers to know the location of every bus in real time and have more control over making sure connections are made.
The public is invited to provide feedback at ncrtd.org or by calling Southwest Planning at 989-8500.