SFR: How’d you feel when the county left the RTD?
JL: I was surprised. I knew there were a couple of oppositions. When it came down to the final vote, people would ask me how I saw this coming out, and I really wasn’t sure. I was more on the positive side. We continued to work with the commissioners. We knew there was a window of opportunity to give them further information. And that led to the reconsideration.
How you feel about the county rejoining?
I think this is really exciting for the region. Connecting up the two RTDs [NCRTD and the Rio Metro Regional Transit District, which serves Bernalillo, Sandoval and Valencia counties], I think that the mobility is for people to come down from Taos, catch the Rail Runner and get to the airport…I see it as a seamless connection with Santa Fe County being part of the RTD.
Tell me about your own background. This is not the kind of livelihood everyone goes into.
Exactly. You kind of just fall into transportation. I’m from Las Vegas, New Mexico. I went to Highlands University, and from there I entered the co-op program my junior year. It was between aviation in Albuquerque or urban transportation in Ft. Worth, Texas. I thought, hmmm, I want to get out—I was from a small community. I went to the Dallas-Ft. Worth area and started working with the feds there. I handled a five-state region—parts of Arkansas, New Mexico and Louisiana. I was the transportation representative up there. I was with them for about three years when I was offered a job with the City of Las Cruces. They needed an urban planner and a grants management person. I stayed down there for about four years. Then I was offered a job at the state DOT as a transportation planner. A year after that, the bureau chief position had been opened. I held that position for 14 years. I left the DOT three years ago to come here.
Describe some of the trends you’ve seen over that time.
Here in New Mexico, it’s been very interesting. Public transportation, when I started way back working for the feds, had a budget statewide of maybe $2 million, not including the ‘urbans’—Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces—having the urban system. Now the rural program federal-wise is about $12 million. We went to New Mexico First last week and one of their recommendations was to get statewide transportation for this next legislative session.
Tell me about the other RTDs.
There are four: NCRTD, Rio Metro, South Central and Southwestern, in the Deming/Silver City area. North Central is the only one actually operating. Rio Metro is contracting out with All Aboard America. South Central and Southwestern are just in the beginning, planning stages.
So you’re the only one who actually owns your buses.
Yes. A lot of people are just looking at what we’re doing up here. We get calls from the other executive directors, other planners who want to know how we’re doing things.
What are some misconceptions about bus ridership?
That has been the difficult challenge, not only here in New Mexico but in the Western states. Back East, people don’t even own a car. Here in the Western states, every family has three or four cars, even if you’re a two-family [household]. We want to bring people from Questa down to the airport if they choose to, or bring people for a weekend in Taos from Albuquerque.
How is New Mexico different from other places you’ve worked?
We’re small in population. So that makes it difficult. We’re growing, so the commuter routes are benefiting the park-and-ride buses. Our ridership has increased each month…I think because of gas prices, our marketing and people seeing our blue buses out there and knowing they can get around within four counties.
Where would you like to see service?
Right now we have a budget for what the routes are today. With the [proposed gross receipts tax], we have many plans to go from Questa to Red River—we don’t have a route there—and we want to do the Enchanted Circle, Angelfire. We want to go to [State Road] 14. We want to expand the Rancho Viejo area. There have been requests for the Pecos area coming in. We have a lot of plans but we need the GRT passed [in November] to do any of those.
I just spoke with [City Councilor] Miguel Chavez, who’s always wearing his RTD baseball cap around…
…and he wanted to know what you see as being the future of regional transit in New Mexico.
Well, I’m really hopeful that we get two things: that we’re successful in getting the GRT passed—that’ll obviously help this four-county region and connecting with the Albuquerque region. Secondly, during the Legislature, I hope for a statewide transportation program. Concerned citizens want a statewide system. They want to get from Carlsbad to Farmington seamlessly. They want to see more public transportation. Hopefully before my time [is up], we can get all this done.