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the A.R.T. electric eclectic

the new art articulated electric BUS and

the new central avenue

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A citizen’s observations, opinions & beliefs.
Copyright 2017

the best bus ever

On August 8, 2017, the first Albuquerque Rapid Transit (A.R.T.) electric bus arrived in the City of Albuquerque, sporting a clearly visible State of California license plate.

#1701 sporting its original “California plates” livery.

This Albuquerque Rapid Transit (A.R.T.) bus is the first ever articulated bus built by the Build Your Dreams (BYD) bus company, headquartered in China, with a factory located in California. #1701 is a special version of the 20 buses contracted for by the City of Albuquerque (COA).

The buses, still undelivered, are supposed to be “roll-on and roll-off” buses that are compatible with the bus platforms still being built in the center lanes of Central Avenue.

Since the required platforms have not been built for 5 of the 14 mile-long Central Avenue and Louisiana Boulevard A.R.T. bus line this “platform slide” bus, with its unconventional ramps, might be totally necessary, not just useful.

catching up with the bus

Yesterday I was able to catch up with the bus after an ABQ RIDE driver informed me that the BYD company had delivered only one bus to the City (COA) and that the one bus had “flip-out” ramps at all 5 doors so that the platforms being built on Central were not even necessary for roll-on and roll-off  loading and unloading.

Admittedly I was a bit confused by this statement, as I thought (last summer) that the whole really cool thing about the A.R.T. project (according to the City) was that the roll-on and off platforms were key to the whole point of centered Central Avenue “stations.”

PNM and the bus charger

When the last electric streetcar in Albuquerque stopped running up and down Central, between Old Town, through new town, with a final stop at where the Frontier Restaurant now is for the University, it was a loss to the city owned electric utility. The last car ended its last run on December 31, 1928, just about 89 years ago.

The model 400 Power Pack that appears to be necessary to keep the bus going.

So, to me it seemed fitting that the new electric buses are powered by the new electric company – PNM. The only problem is that if the new buses are just “plug & play” into the PNM grid, why was it that the first thing that I saw was a giant electrical charger, mounted on wheels no less, like a trailer?

No, I didn’t notice a trailer hitch on the back of bus #1701. So, I guess that this is like a portable charging station in case the bus runs out of “gas” and a PNM outlet is just not available at the stations – just hook-up the trailer, reach the bus, recharge, and everything is “good-to-go.”

The question that nobody asked last summer during all the A.R.T. hoopla was actually how long are the electric bus extension cords used for the PNM charging?

REGISTRATION EXPIRED

When I got to the front of the bus, after working my way around the electrical charger, I couldn’t help but notice that the new buses license was expired.

Expired NM vehicle registration that replaced the California plates.

On August 8th the bus arrived in Albuquerque sporting California plates. On August 28th the bus was temporarily registered in New Mexico. On September 27th the temporary registration expired.  Dare we ask the question why?

If this bus is destined to ply the route along Central Avenue why hasn’t the bus received its permanent NM plates? Why isn’t the bus already snuggling up to the loading platforms so that ABQ RIDE drivers can learn how to serve passengers without scratching the paint off the sides of the beautiful new buses?

Look closely, you may easily see the answer. #1701 is not a new bus at all, it is apparently just an old bus that has been reworked and repainted. Do you see it? The bus was manufactured in 2016. It seems that this was an old bus that had its back chopped off and the articulated trailer was then added.

In the industry they call it a “mock-up” or a prototype model. No, this bus is not apparently a production model, it is a “presentation” model, it’s probably good for a show, but not really good for the road.

So, “back-it-goes” when the real buses start to roll in, but the real buses have yet to roll in. It’s not really “smoke & mirrors,” but the situation could really cause tears if the real buses are not soon in arriving. One may ask, “what’s the rush?”

A good look before it goes back

Sit back, buckle-up, you’re in for the ride of your life.

The electric BRT bus is rather good looking in a street-rail sort of way. It’s said to be streamlined, like the Airstream trailers, but unlike the trailers it is not really streamlined in a real science sort of way. And yes, it is really just a bus, and not really a bit like rail or even light rail.

The bus has 5 doors, 3 on the right, 2 on the left. An accordian fold connects the bus and the bus trailer, creating the articulated effect.

Straps, high chairs, and bars – ART has something for everyone.

Unlike the Rapid-Ride buses there is no advertising covering the outside, but then again, there is no guarantee that that situation won’t change.

Like the “Last Train to Pottsville.”

The buses are silver, as if they were destined for use in the Silver State – Nevada; they are not the red and green with the chile motif that one might expect in New Mexico. There is no nod to Route 66, but then again, the old Route 66 is now long gone with the newsy noise of the new buses and the new Central.

RIBBON CUTTING

The big deal associated with the electric bus set is being ready when the final ribbon is cut. Politicians are always into photo-ops and ceremonies. It looks bad when one politician really worked hard and the new politician gets all the credit.

I worked very hard last summer to point out the madness of this very big bus boondoggle, but, until now, I had little to show for it. In the opposite corner Mayor Berry probably feels the same way.

Wheelchair lock-down location, the high shoe-shine seats are further back.

He did the “done deal” and now he wants the photo-op credit. The new mayor, Tim Keller, takes office on December 1, 2017, just over five weeks away. So Berry has five weeks to finish everything, clean up Central, get the buses, train the drivers, and have everything running on the tight 15 minute bus schedule that he promised years and years ago when he first began to get started.

I imagine that they are giving very long odds on the bet in Las Vegas, but, don’t get me wrong – it could happen.

The accordion is also called a squeeze box. We’ll see if the fenders are really benders at the ART stations.

the new central

The old Route 66 Arch is now upstaged by the ART bus logo sign at the end of the line at Coors & Central. Actually the bus goes another mile or so to the transit transfer station, but no loading ramps have even been started there yet.

The first ART platform sign is up with many, many more to go – just another bump in the road.

Five or six weeks from now, under the Berry plan, all the orange cones and barrels will be gone and a thousand or more ART construction workers will be unemployed.

Note that the “red rock” reinforced concrete pavement ends just east of the station. It’s just a very wide swath of uninterrupted black asphalt to the bottom of the hill, 1.5 miles away. The only break is the station near where the Old Coors intersection has been eliminated.

All the trees, the medians, and the center island light posts on old Central Avenue are gone.

polka dot paint with little shelter

The ART loading platform at Coors features the white polka dot crosswalks that the illustrators promised. In their ‘conceptual illustrative renderings’ the polka dots were much larger and they were plastic inlays, not paint.

Some might say it was “bait and switch” to do this, I think it is more “bus and switch.” Anyway, less than a month and the polka dot crosswalks already look worn and dirty.

Worn and dirty in a project that many say was ‘fast & dirty.’ But the contractors all made money.

The new Denver Airport was probably where most people first noticed the “tent top” stretched material as a substitute for roof coverings. The ART transit platforms leave people substantially exposed to the sun, rain, snow, wind and weather. And all this is while one is stranded in the middle of the street.

ABQ RIDE hated that the Rapid Ride stops provided shelter for the homeless. I guess that is the issue that led to decisions like this:

The ART workers find shelter by sitting on the edge with feet in the bus lane.

The nanny state is always watching you, as if the “watch bird” has replaced the roadrunner as the New Mexico state bird. Every station has multiple cameras recording your every move 24/7. Don’t look up, you might see them while they are seeing you.

So if the police are called, will they use the bus lanes to respond in a reasonable amount of time?

In the next picture you can see the camera watching the painter if you look up. At the stations you always have to “look up” so you don’t hit your head on the “V” shaped metal pipes that provide support for the tent tops.

Real, effective, transportation systems require a lot more than a new coat of paint.

Remember that it is the “two-door” side of the bus that is available at most stations (See featured image above), the “three-door” side of the bus (shown below) is only used downtown and at the extreme ends of east and west Central.  Go figure?

Right side of bus with three doors,

not used at platforms.

 

 

 

 

 

CONCRETE AND STEAL

The original ART plan sold to the feds and sold to the people of Albuquerque was for a world class BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system that had, as almost all BRT systems, a system of reinforced concrete “bus only” right-of-ways.

The advantage of this thick concrete slab, reinforced with steel rebar, is that it provides a long-lasting durable roadway that can support the weight of frequent, very heavy, passenger loaded buses in a way that asphalt road surfaces simply can’t.

A simple drive down Central reveals that these dedicated bus guide-ways haven’t been built. In most cases the red-rock red concrete ends just before or after each station.

There is no continuous durable reinforced concrete path on which the buses can tread. I guess that someone assumed that nobody in Albuquerque would really notice this “bus and switch,” this blatant “steal of steel.”

So, the big boys of Central, on Central, are busy painting the asphalt with big “bus only” letters in hopes that the black and white road scheme will keep real people from seeing the “red” that just isn’t there.

I see red lights near the Nob Hill station, but no red concrete bus-way going east.

University station near the Frontier Restaurant has educated people that might notice the missing cement – so the red cement here is not missing.

u-turns and no turns

The Spruce Street (Presbyterian Health Line Hospital) Station already has the bus only lane signs and the bus only pavement paint.

Generally, you make left turns and U-turns at every signal. The idea is that you drive-by a business and then double-back via a U-turn to park fairly near the business. Everyone probably knows that there will be very little walking across the new Central unless you want to be almost literally “thrown under a bus.”

So, in this case the lanes are just 10 feet wide and you have to circle around two of them, both full of buses, to just get back to where you were five or ten minutes earlier.  Oh my.

Do you see the business parking? I don’t see the business parking. Do you see the durable red concrete roadway?

BACK to the future

I think it is going to be a very fun five weeks, taking bets on how far Berry will go and how far the eclectic electric bus project will grow.

The best part will be when buses start running, if they start running, and how traffic will handle the bus only bulb-outs that now punctuate the new Central.  Central used to be for cruising, now it seems more destined to be “cruising for a bruising.”

The IDO (Integrated Development Ordinance) is projected to make most of Central into a five mile long, five-story high wall of apartments and businesses and booming brew-pubs and coder hang-outs.  Maybe it’s good, but I liked and loved the old Albuquerque better, people with heart, people with roots and soul.

Goodbye old Route 66, you served us well while you lasted.