City Council applauds Red Apple changes

Dan Schwartz
Passengers board the blue line bus on Friday at the Red Apple Transit stop on Farmington Avenue.

FARMINGTON — Farmington city councilors on Tuesday evening applauded changes made several months ago to Red Apple Transit routes that officials say have sparked an increase in ridership.

Officials recorded at least 11,250 passengers in April, and that number increased to nearly 12,100 in September. The nearly 7 percent increase came after the city’s new transit manager, Andrew Montoya, added stops, rearranged routes and changed bus hours in mid-August.

“I think a 7 percent increase in ridership over a several month period is impressive,” Mayor Tommy Roberts said after Montoya’s enthusiastic presentation during the meeting. “Those are the kinds of number we like to see.”

In response to a question from Roberts, Montoya said he’s gotten many positive responses from people who ride the buses and few complaints.

But one woman who attended the meeting — Daisy Swadesh of Farmington — said the changes had some unintended consequences. She said Smith’s parking lot off of 20th Street has long been a transfer point, but now people riding from the college miss a connection in the parking lot because the bus arrives too late.

A passenger exits a blue line bus on Friday at a Red Apple Transit stop on Farmington Avenue.

“Every time you make a change,” Swadesh said, “things get out of kilter.”

Montoya also told councilors about a project he has been working on with Google. Soon, he said, people riding the buses will be able to get directions on Google Maps that tell them which buses to take and what route to walk to board them.

He hoped initially to have the program online by the end of this month, but he was told recently that it may take an additional three weeks, or more.

The service will cost the city about $2,900 for the first year because of start-up costs and will cost about $1,100 annually after that.

In an interview before the meeting, Assistant City Manager Bob Campbell said the changes have set the public transit system on a track to improve service and boost use.

Campbell had managed the system while balancing his other duties before the city hired Montoya who began the full-time job in early May. Now, Campbell said, the city has someone who works exclusively on the system.

City officials provided The Daily Times with ridership data for each month dating back to 2002, but they say comparing the old numbers to the new ones would be misleading. The city switched contractors in March, and the new company records ridership differently than the old company, they said.

Campbell said the data is one of the city’s most important tools to analyze the effectiveness of the transit system, but officials use the numbers as a guide, not an exact measurement. There is also a margin of error for which the city doesn’t compensate, he said.

Montoya said he’s not worried about the previous year’s data because he is focused on the new numbers. He said he wants to reach 13,000 riders a month.

“That would be a beautiful number,” Montoya said.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.