Help is on the way for transit system

-A A +A
By Jennifer Garcia

Since its inception a year ago, the Atomic City Transit system seems to be very well received by Los Alamos County residents.

It’s seen a spike in riders and has begun offering morning and evening Peak Services, which provide two options per hour from each neighborhood route during peak commute hours.

Because of its popularity, however, the free service has caused some issues for ACT staff members.

Staff originally anticipated that implementing the Enhanced Peak Hour Services would reduce the number of people on the overcrowded buses with some existing riders making the shift to the new, second option.

However, on some routes, particularly the White Rock route, new riders have started using the system and the first bus is still loaded to capacity, requiring the need to continue to provide daily backup buses to ensure that no one is turned away.

Adding to the overcrowding issue is the fact that staff resources have been fluctuating because of staff attrition for various reasons. In an effort to alleviate some of the stress, County Councilors voted last week to approve the addition of two full-time regular Transit Operator 1 employees. In addition, they approved an increase in the FY09 Transit Division budget by $66,536.

Public Works Director Kyle Zimmerman attended last week’s council meeting and made a presentation to councilors on the issue.

“We were ambitious when we estimated that we’d have 100,000 rides the first year,” Zimmerman said. “We’ve had 237,000 the first year. The kids enjoyed the system over the summer.”

Because the program has become so popular, employees are in danger of being overburdened.

 “We don’t have the resources and we’re burning the staff out,” Zimmerman said. “It’s gotten so successful that we can’t run it the way it’s being run. We need some help.”

He also said that staff is so over extended that they have been working split shifts and coming in on scheduled days off in order to provide coverage and be able to operate the transit system.  

Councilor Michael Wheeler asked Zimmerman if hiring the two new employees would eliminate overtime. “We won’t have to bring people in on their day off, but it won’t eliminate overtime,” Zimmerman said.

In addition to hiring the new employees, staff requested upgrading two of the older LA Bus 19-passenger buses that are scheduled for replacement in FY09, to a 31-passenger capacity in order to reduce the need for backup buses on high-use routes.

After further discussion, Councilor Ken Milder moved to approve the motion, which passed unanimously.