Council: Expanded bus service needed
By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
At its Tuesday, Feb. 8 work session, Mayor Ken Miyagishima and members of the Las Cruces City Council indicated their support for expanding and improving RoadRUNNER Transit service, the city-operated public transportation system.
“RoadRUNNER Transit system ridership has grown at a steady rate over the past five years while service levels have remained constant,” according to the city Metropolitan Planning Office’s (MPO) Short Range Transit Plan Final Report, issued in October 2015.
“The current system does a good job of providing service,” said MPO Staff Officer Tom Murphy, but expanded service is needed.
Proposed changes would phase in buses running longer hours, Sunday bus service, faster service on some routes, new crosstown service, direct service to Doña Ana Community College’s east mesa campus, greater access to grocery stores and shopping destinations, improved directness of most routes, providing for anticipated increases in RoadRUNNER’s service area and ridership and reduced emphasis on Mesilla Valley Mall, according to the report.
The proposed changes were driven by public input on the plan, Murphy said, which was gathered through a rider survey conducted in December 2014 and January 2015; an online version of the rider survey that was available from Dec. 10, 2014 through May 1, 2015; a city council work session last June; and a city Transit Advisory Board presentation and three public meetings last July, the report said.
The plan recommends expanding bus service in five phases that probably would take several years to complete, based on funding and council support, Murphy said.
Phase one, which he said could begin within a few months, would include expanding, realigning and consolidating seven routes, including new services to the Bataan, Northrise and North Telshor areas of Las Cruces.
Murphy said phase two changes would include extending bus service from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. during weekdays on current routes. RoadRUNNER’s Route 80 (Lohman/Picacho) would improve running time to 30 minutes in phase three. Phase four would increase Saturday hours from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. add Sunday bus service to existing routes, and add weekend service to the newly proposed Bataan route. Phase five would increase weekday hours on the Bataan route and add a new Solano Drive route.
The recommendations would provide service to about 1,500 more riders in phases one through four and 5,000 in phase 5, according to the report. The cost of phase one would be about $3.3 million, and implementation of all five phases would cost an estimated $4.8 million, according to the report.
“Between 2010 and 2013, the population of Las Cruces increased 3.8 percent from 97,621 to 101,324,” according to the report, which said total employment in the city during that same time period grew by 3.1 percent, from 40,712 to 41,983. Monthly Road-RUNNER ridership has increased from more than 40,000 in January 2010 to about 65,000 in August 2012 to about 60,000 last October, the report said.
RoadRUNNER Transit stared April 21, 1986 and will celebrate its 30th birthday this spring. Current service consists of 12 fixed routes that serve Las Cruces, NMSU and DACC and operate from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. There is no bus service on Sunday or major holidays. Most routes operate at 60-minute headways (time between consecutive services), and every route makes a timed transfer at either the Mesilla Valley Intermodal Transit Terminal, 300 W. Lohman Ave., or Mesilla Valley Mall.
The current cost of service is free for children ages five and under; $1 for adults and 50 cents for a youth, senior citizen, disabled person, Medicare holder or student for a one-way fare; $1.25 for adults for a day pass and $2.25 for all others; $4 for adults for a weekly pass and $8 for all others; and $30 for adults for a monthly pass and $15 for all others.
The city and NMSU jointly provide the Aggie Transit system, which consists of two shuttle routes between NMSU and the city that operate from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays during school semesters, and are available to students with a valid NMSU ID; the DACC Shuttle, jointly operated by the city and DACC, which provides a free limited-stop shuttle between DACC’s east mesa campus and Mesilla Valley Mall, and is open to the public and operates on weekdays during school semesters.
The city also provides a dial-a-ride program, which is a curb-to-curb, on-demand transportation service for senior citizens and the disabled. Fares are $2 for each one-way trip and free to senior citizens.
The city has a total of 19 fixed-route buses and 20 dial-a-ride para-transit buses, said city Transit Operations Supervisor Richard Hanway. There are 33 fixed-route drivers and 16 dial-aride drivers, he said. “Fixed-route buses have a sitting capacity of 35 but can accommodate as many as 78 passengers sitting and standing combined,” Hanway said. “The dial-a-ride buses can accommodate eight to 14 passengers. Both fixed route and dial- a-ride are ADA accessible and both accommodate two mobility devices per vehicle,” he said. Hanway said fixed-route buses logged 503,084 miles in 2015, while diala- ride buses reported 220,361 miles for 2015.
The MPO plan includes a peer review comparing RoadRUNNER transit to seven other transit systems that serve communities of similar size to Las Cruces in the western United States, including Santa Fe; Flagstaff, Arizona; Grand Junction and Pueblo, Colorado; Logan, Utah; and Billings and Missoula, Montana.
Peer review findings, according to the report, include:
• Despite having the third highest service area population, Road-RUNNER operates the second fewest number of fixed-route peak vehicles; • RoadRUNNER’s service area size is slightly above the peer group mean, and population density was 11 percent lower than the peer group average;
• For revenue hours and revenue miles, RoadRUNNER ranked lowest among the peer group. RoadRUNNER also had the second lowest number of passenger trips. Overall, Road-RUNNER had approximately one-third fewer passenger trips and 25 percent fewer revenue hours and miles than the peer group average;
• RoadRUNNER ranked below the mean in terms of total funds expended ($6.3 million vs. $6.6 million). Total local contribution ($2.3 million) was 24 percent lower than the peer group average ($3.1 million). The percent local contribution of total funds for RoadRUNNER was 38 percent (compared to the peer group average of 44 percent.)
‘On the fast track’
Councillor Ceil Levatino said local residents need bus service on Sundays and longer evening bus hours to accommodate work schedules and shopping needs. Mayor Pro-Tem Greg Smith agreed.
Councillor Gill Sorg said the council should put approval of phase one of the plan “on the fast track.” Public transportation, he said, is an important way for many local residents to get to and from their jobs.
Councillor Kasandra Gandara, a social worker, said bus service is also essential so people can reach the social services they need.
Councillor Olga Pedroza said one of the benefits of an expanded bus system is few people driving cars, which is better for the environment.
City Transportation Director David Maestas said expanding the city bus system is important because many local residents are spending nearly one-third of their incomes on transportation, which he said is “unsustainable.”
“I think this is the best plan I’ve ever seen,” said former Las Cruces City Councillor Sharon Thomas during the public comment portion of the work session.
Kysten Aguilar, food planning and policy specialist for La Semilla Food Center, said providing increased access to grocery stores through public transportation is vital in fighting hunger and hunger-related diseases among those who lack personal transportation services.
Convergys Corp. Las Cruces Site Director Jason Heckler said the bus stop nearest Convergys Corp., located at 4201 Del Rey Blvd., is three miles away. He asked that the bus stop be moved to a closer location as soon as possible, noting that many of his more than 350 employees ride the bus to work.
“I ride the bus a lot,” said Las Cruces resident Charles Clements. He said the capacity of the city bus system has remained the same for 20 years, even though the city’s population has grown substantially. He said all phases of the MPO plan should be adopted now by the council.
For more information, visit www.las-cruces. org/ departments/ transportation/ transit and http:// las- cruces. granicus. com/ MetaViewer. php?view_id=2& event_ id=191& meta_id=67192.