We must support our transit system

-A A +A
By Ralph Damiani

High fuel prices are hurting everyone. People are cutting down on their driving, they are driving more carefully and they are taking the bus.

Ridership on the buses to Santa Fe and Albuquerque are up and if you have been on one of the Atomic City buses you’d see a high ridership.

In fact, many routes at many times have packed buses as people seek to get relief from the high price of gas.

Nancy Talley who runs the transportation department said that the bus system had more than 40,000 riders in June. Numbers, she said, for a community of more than 100,000 residents.

She also said the county has already surpassed the expectations in its 10-year plan – which now has to be redone.

And the fact that the local buses – run by the county – are offering free rides is only icing on the cake.

But there is a fly in the ointment that we must all be aware of – and deal with.

The high price of fuel that is driving us to the buses is also affecting the county. According to Talley the county is spending some $3,445 a week on fuel. And that bill will go up as routes expand – as they plan to expand the White Rock route.

We are not big fans of government run enterprises but in this case we again have to agree with County Administrator Max Baker when he said the county this a grand-slam home run with the bus project.

But – despite what some may think – the county is not a bottomless pit as far as money goes and they have to pay for this transportation.

Besides fuel, there is maintenance, drivers’ salaries, wear and tear on tires and such and all that goes with running a vehicle.

If you think it is expensive to run your car, just think of the county’s cost.

But this is a good use of tax money – as the huge ridership shows. People want – and need – this service.

But at some point the county will reach a place where the need will exceed its ability to provide and we cannot let that happen.

Before we get to that place, the county needs to find a way to fund this and the public needs to support that. Just as we support recycling on our utility bills, we need to find a way to support our transportation system with adequate funding.

This is a community service that must be supported by the community.

And one must understand that there is a greater service here than just free rides. There were some 16,000 riders on the downtown route.

Those are people who are on foot and this dramatically increases the chance of them stopping by a local store.

This is simply good for business, it is good for community spirit as we meet and talk to each other and it is good for the environment.

It is a win-win-win.

So a solution to this cost issue must be found. But charging for rides is not the way to go – that would be too cumbersome and costly.

So a system must be found to keep this new giant running smoothly and efficiently. Only there is a caveat here – this issue should come to a public vote.

The community must be behind this public expenditure and this must be clearly demonstrated. A public vote is necessary.

The bus service is a worthwhile program – and the ridership numbers show it is needed – and we are sure the community is behind it.