Northern New Mexico is in the process of shifting from a transportation system almost totally dependent upon private automobiles to one that is more multi-modal and balanced.
The Rail Runner express will begin service from Santa Fe to Albuquerque in December, and bus service is being expanded throughout the City, County, and region.
This is good news for a number of reasons. Not only will citizens begin to reap the many benefits of affordable public transportation at a time when gas prices are continually rising and carbon emissions are adversely affecting global warming; but this is also a significant step toward greater regionalization of our communities and economy.
It is no secret that many New Mexicans commute long distances to work. Many Espanola residents commute to work in Los Alamos and Santa Fe. A large number of Albuquerque and Rio Rancho residents commute to Santa Fe, while many Santa Fesinos commute to Albuquerque and Los Alamos.
Not only do many northern New Mexicans travel long distances to work, they also travel to shop, dine out, get medical care, attend colleges and universities, and enjoy culture and recreation, including special events, like the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and Santa Fe Indian Market. Regional transportation provides the essential link to enable all of our residents, young and old, rich and poor, to be active participants in this regional community.
It should not come as a surprise that your local governments are working together to provide affordable regional public transportation. Your elected local officials have long worked regionally in many other arenas, including regional water and wastewater systems, regional solid waste collection, regional economic development planning, and regional cooperation in providing police and fire protection. If anything, it is somewhat surprising that is has taken this long for local governments to form an organization like the North Central Regional Transit District (RTD) in order to meet your regional transportation needs.
Northern New Mexico voters will have an opportunity on November 4th to enact a 1/8 cent increase in the gross receipts tax to support regional public transportation. In Santa Fe, half of the revenues from the tax would go to help operate the Rail Runner train. The other half of the tax revenues would go to support the operations of the Santa Fe Trails Bus System, to expand bus service into the area around Santa Fe Community College, and to improve service to Eldorado, Edgewood, Moriarty, Espanola, and other areas. :
Let’s examine the potential benefits of public transportation, all of which are well documented:
Save Money. Gas prices recently reached record highs and are still hovering above $3.00 per gallon. The true cost of driving a car, according to the IRS, is $.585 per mile. Thus, if a person commutes 25 miles in each direction, it costs $29.25 per day to commute, equivalent to $146.25 per week and over $600 per month. By comparison, public transportation is very economical and its use increases one’s disposable income.
Conserve Energy. Private cars are not very energy efficient, and emit carbon, contributing in large part to global warming. Taking public transportation can help conserve our increasingly scarce petroleum reserves. And all those vehicles on the road generate pollution, including greenhouse gases. Public transportation is a much greener alternative.
Reduce Congestion. Our roads are getting increasingly congested, slowing travel to employment, shopping, and recreation. Every bus replaces up to forty vehicles, freeing up space on our highways.
Increase Safety. Traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death in New Mexico, especially among our young people. Public transportation is a safe alternative to driving, especially during wintry weather.
Increase Mobility. Our younger and older citizens, as well as many persons with disabilities or low incomes, are unable to drive a private vehicle. Public transportation is a way of leveling the playing field to provide access to education, jobs, shopping, health services, and recreation to all New Mexicans.
Support Economic Development. With the high cost of housing in communities like Santa Fe, much of our workforce must commute long distances to their place of employment. Public transportation provides employers with access to a larger workforce and helps grow our economy.
To achieve these substantial benefits, the actual annual costs to Santa Fe taxpayers would be only $4.5 million per year, just 12.5 cents for every $100 spent on taxable items.
Some opponents have said that the tax is regressive and unfairly impacts those least able to pay. In fact, the tax increase will not affect the cost of groceries or medical services. And much of the tax will be paid by tourists, visitors and residents of other counties and who commute to work and who shop and dine in Santa Fe.
Opponents have stated that the State should pay for all of the cost of operating the Rail Runner. Can we really expect taxpayers in Las Cruces or Raton to pay for a train they will never get to ride?
Some opponents fear that taxes will be raised in the future. But that could only happen if citizens authorize such an increase.
Opponents have argued that the bus service should be offered by the City and County instead of the RTD. This approach has already been rejected by both the City Council and County Commission, which both recently rejoined the RTD after they considered forming their own transit district.
Working together through regionalization benefits all Santa Fe County residents; public transportation is the critical component to make this happen. I hope you will consider the proposed transit tax and how it might benefit you and increase the economic prosperity of the northern New Mexico region. And be sure to vote on November 4th!
Virginia Vigil, Santa Fe County Commissioner, District 2
Harry Montoya, Santa Fe County Commissioner, District 1
Mike Anaya, Santa Fe County Commissioner, District 3