Though lifelong Albuquerque resident Barbara Thomas regularly rides a bus to work, she knows getting more people to do the same is a challenge.
“A lot of us have been raised running around in cars,” she said. “That’s a hard habit to break.”
But as gas prices soar, cities must help people break that habit or see their economies suffer, said Warren Karlenzig, chief strategy officer with Sustain Lane (www.sustainlane.com), an online media company working for sustainable living.
The company recently ranked Albuquerque 37th out of 50 cities for its preparedness to survive economically in the face of high gasoline prices.
“The good thing here is Albuquerque is taking a lot of different measures to improve that,” Karlenzig said. “They just have to probably do it faster and keep doing it.”
The study – which evaluated factors including public transportation, access to locally grown food to avoid shipping costs and wireless networks for telecommuting – named New York City as the most prepared for high gasoline prices and Oklahoma City as the least prepared.
If cities don’t prepare, Karlenzig warned, their economies could suffer as people and businesses face huge costs or move elsewhere to find more affordable goods, services and transportation options.
Karlenzig expects Albuquerque to rise in the ranks as city and state public transportation initiatives – including the modern streetcar and Rail Runner train – develop.
He noted the study used data up until 2004, a year when he said 2.4 percent of people living in Albuquerque used public transportation. Falling below 5 percent means public transportation is “just not part of the public consciousness,” he said.
Increasing usage, he said, is a matter of increasing the convenience, reach and visibility of public transportation. He cited successful examples from cities such as Portland and Santa Monica, Calif., which provide fare-free zones for bus use and have high-level officials ride buses.
In 2006, boardings are expected to reach 8 million to 8.4 million, up from the 7.2 million passenger boardings in 2005, said ABQ Ride spokesman Jay Faught.
“I think that actually the price of gas is helping us a bit in that category,” Faught said. “When it starts impacting people in the pocketbook and affecting their own lives, more people are going to be interested in public transportation.”
If gas prices keep rising, Thomas said, she may expand her bus usage – already saving her about $100 a month on gasoline – beyond her work commute.
“It’s really hard to get people to give up their cars,” she said. “The trick is to make it good enough and appealing enough that people will get on the bus.”
Sustain Lane studied how well the economies of the 50 largest U.S. cities would survive if gasoline prices reached exorbitant levels.
Albuquerque tied Dallas for the 37th spot in the study that looked at a number of factors, including a city’s public transportation network, its access to locally grown food and wireless network presence.
Here are some cities ranked the least- and most-prepared for high gas prices:
1. New York City
3. San Francisco
46. Virginia Beach, Va.
47. Indianapolis, Ind.
48. Forth Worth, Texas.
49. Louisville, Ky.
50. Oklahoma City, Okla.