Public Transportation in New Mexico and El Paso

For years, I’ve wanted to see light rail in Las Cruces—preferably running both up to Albuquerque and down to El Paso. However, there are a number of concerns, as mentioned in this Las Cruces Sun-News article.1

Rail Runner

This commuter line opened in northern New Mexico in 2006, eventually expanding from Belen to Santa Fe. It has cost this poor state2 millions of dollars and is not self-sufficient. Ticket costs are zone based and average out to $0.10/mile.3

Based on that figure, a one-way trip between Belen and Las Cruces would cost about $20. Day, month, and annual passes would likely go up in cost. For cost comparison, this is about the same as one person in a car that gets 30 MPG. A family probably wouldn’t benefit as much.

Questions

The aforelinked Las Cruces Sun-News article quotes David Chandler of Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) as saying:

The questions that need to be answered include, ‘Is the market big enough?’ ‘Is there connectivity to other forms of public transportation?’ and ‘Is there a culture for using this service?’

Market

The article offers one answer to the first question in the form of a quote from Scott Bernstein, also of CNT:

There are other metropolitan areas that already have commuter rail that don’t have the combined population that El Paso and Las Cruces do.

Other Public Transportation

El Paso has been working on improving its bus system. Their Sun Metro bus system recently introduced Brio, their express route brand. They’re also bringing streetcars back to downtown.

Las Cruces’ bus system struggles with a poor image in the community. It’s seen as slow, unreliable, only used by the homeless or very poor. It only runs 06:30-19:00 Monday through Friday, 09:30-18:00 Saturday, and offers no service on Sunday. In addition, you cannot look up routes on Google Maps, as you can for Sun Metro.

Culture

In most of the west, I don’t think there is a culture to use public transportation. People are used to both urban sprawl and great distances between towns and cities. They see a car as absolutely essential and public transport as a lesser option—something you only use when you’re too destitute to have access to a car.

I really wish this wasn’t the case. I wish I could hop on a train to Albuquerque or El Paso at cost similar to or lower than driving.4 I wish it didn’t take twice at least twice as long to get somewhere on the bus as in my car. And I wish enough other people would want and use this, too.

  1. Thanks for the link, Andrew.
  2. Median income was $41,963 in 2014, ranking NM 43rd in the country.
  3. It’s $10 to travel 97 miles.
  4. My 8-mile roundtrip commute is more expensive by bus than in my thirsty 6 cylinder sedan.