News Column

Mayor eyes college shuttle service to boost downtown nightlife

August 3, 2014

By Daniel J. ChacÓn, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Aug. 03--Being a college student without a car makes going out at night difficult, especially in a city like Santa Fe, where public transportation grinds to a halt at 10 o'clock.

Just ask Fernanda Esquivel, a 22-year-old student from Mexico City who attends the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

"I guess because of the lack of transportation, not including cabs, I didn't go as often as I wanted to to downtown," Esquivel said via Facebook on Thursday.

Esquivel and other university students, as well as the general public, may have a new transportation option starting Aug. 28.

Mayor Javier Gonzales is proposing a pilot project to provide free shuttle service between the university on St. Michael's Drive and downtown and the Santa Fe Railyard from Aug. 28 to Dec. 20.

"By opening up transportation to our downtown area and events, we are inviting an often under-served section of our population to safely take advantage of Santa Fe in a whole new way," Gonzales said in a statement.

"The secondary effects will be seen as new businesses develop and established businesses flourish due to increased pedestrian traffic and new possibilities. We want people to leave their cars at home, take advantage of what our city has to offer and find new adventures on every corner. I believe it's important to open transportation from the area surrounding the Santa Fe University of Art and Design as there is an established group of young people who will utilize it there and the plans for growth in that area will continue collaborative success," he said.

The shuttles would run about every half-hour between 6 and 11 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

"SFUAD has specifically identified the need for supplemental public transportation service to enable SFUAD students and the neighboring public to access the Railyard and downtown Plaza areas on weekend nights," according to a resolution that Gonzales is sponsoring.

University President Larry Hinz said in an email that most college towns already offer their students access to restaurants, music venues and other nightlife activities, which only enhances their overall college experience.

"The university's location on St. Michael's Drive currently doesn't afford our students many nightlife options within walking distance, so this proposal is a welcome opportunity that will allow them a more convenient and safe way to explore what Santa Fe currently does offer in terms of nightlife," he said. "Hopefully this program will encourage venues to stay open later once they realize there is a demand from the younger generation in the city."

Plans call for the City Council to receive a report on the pilot project Nov. 12. At that time, the mayor and city councilors could discuss whether to continue the program and possibly even expand it to other campuses and then direct city staff to prepare a formal proposal for consideration Dec. 12.

"This pilot project, if successful, could serve as a model for similar public transportation service expansions linking other residential institutions of higher learning, namely St. John's College and the Institute of American Indian Arts to downtown nightlife in future phases," Gonzales' resolution states.

The council's Finance Committee will consider the proposal Monday.

"In theory, it sounds good," said City Councilor Chris Rivera, a committee member who hasn't seen the specific proposal, including the fiscal impact report.

The mayor's resolution states that the city's Santa Fe Pick-Up shuttle operation could run the program with existing fleet and staff with "only minimal additional operating expense that can be absorbed in the existing budget."

Santa Fe Pick-Up currently services the downtown area and Canyon Road from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday. It also offers a seasonal route to Museum Hill and the Children's Museum between May and October.

Ken Smithson, director of operations and maintenance for the city's Transit Division, said the four-month pilot project would cost about $18,300.

"We'll just make do and move funds around to cover this expense," he said. "We're not going to cut service anywhere else."

Santa Fe Pick-Up has a fleet of five shuttles, and drivers are part-time operators who don't work a full 40 hours, he said.

"We can allocate some of those resources to the evening hours," Smithson said.

When asked if the school was willing to contribute funding to the effort, Hinz was noncommittal. "We are open to exploring a long-term solution to help fund regular shuttle service around the city for our students," he said. "For now, we're working closely with the city's Transportation Department on this particular pilot program, and determining the best routes that would be of interest to our students."

The free shuttle service could "bring that energy associated with the university to downtown," said City Councilor Peter Ives, who signed on as a co-sponsor.

"We're always looking for ways to make sure that our downtown areas are attracting an entire demographic, the youthful and everybody else," he said. "It's not that we don't have that happening, but in an effort to promote it more significantly, that's what this is an effort to do."

The pilot project could also expose young people who are about to enter the workforce that Santa Fe has plenty to offer, Ives said.

"We talk a lot about our youth blight, about the aging of our population, about the fact that our young people too often depart the city and go elsewhere to build their lives and work," he said. "This is an effort to try and make sure that the city remains relevant to our young people."

In a statement issued by the university, senior Jack Brinkley, a film major, called the pilot project a "wonderful idea" that the student body has wanted for a while.

"It's a service I would have liked to see my sophomore year when I first arrived to campus, actually," he said. "It is encouraging to hear that the community is listening to our need for more transportation and nightlife activities in Santa Fe. By growing businesses and catering to some of the younger Santa Fe residents, I think Santa Fe itself has the potential to grow."

Contact Daniel J. ChacÓn at 986-3089 or Follow him on Twitter at @danieljchacon.


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Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, The (NM)

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