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FARMINGTON — Changes to Red Apple Transit that officials say will improve the public bus system are due to be completed soon.

The city hired a full-time employee to manage the system, and he began work in early May. New Transit Manager Andrew Montoya said the buses will begin covering new routes and heading to new stops no later than Aug. 17.

The changes are designed to make it easier for San Juan College students to make more morning classes, as well as allow passengers riding from the Navajo Nation to board the city's buses in Kirtland. Additionally, five stops have been added along 20th Street.

"We have not removed any city stops," Montoya said.

As part of the changes, eight bus routes have been altered, with some switched to cover other routes and many new stops added.

On the Yellow Route, the new plan adds three bus stops between Hutton Avenue and East Main Street, and two between North Sunset Avenue and Sullivan Avenue on 20th Street. Montoya said there were previously no bus stops on 20th Street.

Buses will begin running on the Red Route at 7:30 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. and cover Yarrow Trail. Those buses will begin their routes in Aztec, Bloomfield and Kirtland at 6:45 a.m. to deliver college students to San Juan College before 8 a.m.

Buses on the Green Route used to transport passengers to Yarrow Trail but will instead convey them to a new bus stop located outside the San Juan College School of Energy.

On the Blue Route, stops are being added at Berg Park, and at the corners of Main Street and Wall Street, and Broadway and Commercial Avenue. Buses will also transport passengers to Hastings.

Purple Route passengers will be able to catch buses at the Mesa Shopping Center, and at the corners of Ute Street and Dustin Avenue, and Dustin Avenue and Brookside Park.

"The stops can take you anywhere in the city," Montoya said.

Outside the city, the new plan removes two stops in Kirtland but adds a transfer stop for passengers from the Navajo Nation to connect to Red Apple Transit. In Aztec, buses will stop at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in addition to 6 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. The plan will also add a bus stop shelter outside the library in Bloomfield.

Assistant City Manager Bob Campbell, who used to oversee the bus system, said a federal grant funds 80 percent of Montoya's $55,000 salary. The city and Aztec, Bloomfield and San Juan County pay the rest, he said.

Another change the city made to the transit system was switching its contractor in March. First Transit Inc. operated the bus system in the past, and some drivers said the contractor was shortchanging them.

Ride Right LLC now operates the bus line. Campbell said when the city was seeking bids for new contractors, it asked about salaries and benefits for employees. Ride Right offered a better health benefit package than First Transit and the highest hourly pay rate, he said.

"They just seemed to be in much better touch with their employees," he said.

In 2011, more than 157,000 people boarded Red Apple buses, and between approximately 135,000 and 141,000 people boarded the buses each year in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and dschwartz@daily-times.com. Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.

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