FREEBUS is a photojournalism project and an examination of an essential part of my daily life. It explores the essential tool that is public transportation. It also utilizes the bus as a kind of mobile studio.
When the City of Albuquerque initiated the Fare Free Pilot Program, I was eager to witness the changes it brought to the broad yet imperfect public transportation system in my city. I wanted to see exactly what changed when public transit was made free for all.
Before January 2, 2022, the bus was selectively free. It was $0.35 for students under the age of 18, and free for college students with the proper sticker ID. Everyone else had to pay. For a regular adult, the price per ride was $1.00 flat. For many, this price was steep.
A significant number of the people who ride the city bus daily live below the poverty line. Some of the people who use public transit are experiencing homelessness. The bus is also utilized every day by people who have issues with accessibility. For these individuals, the free bus offers vital access. Often, the only available jobs are far from people's homes. Not only that, but people need access to healthcare, education, groceries, and recreational activities. Having access to these aspects of life is crucial. With the free bus, these folks can navigate daunting distances, making the world a bit more accessible.
Since the implementation of the program, using the bus in Albuquerque has been incredibly easy. Simply wait for the bus and get on. There are no fees, no questions, no card swipes, or ID scans. Often, though, there is limited security.
There has always been illegal activity surrounding the public transit system, especially drug use and distribution. Though this year has been relatively calm, there have been some incidents of violence onboard city buses, particularly against bus drivers. I once found myself in the middle seat during a drug transaction, which was uncomfortable.
Partially due to reports of violence and chaos on the bus, there has been a significant bus driver shortage. A recent study reported that ABQ Ride has a shortage of about 100 drivers. This has impacted the bus's ability to serve people. I was on a bus recently that was so full the driver instituted a drop-only policy, meaning dozens of people waiting for the bus were skipped, forced to wait for the next one. It was a striking sight.
Over the last two years, I have ridden the bus for free hundreds of times and been on nearly every route offered by the city. I have found this free system to be incredibly efficient. It incentivizes me to take the bus, which reduces my personal environmental footprint.