banner-train-at-alvarado.jpg

Meet Terry Doyle, Rio Metro's Transportation Director

terry doyle webTerry Doyle is a man with a vision for New Mexico's transportation future. Doyle is the Transportation Director for the Rio Metro Regional Transit District, which includes Bernalillo, Sandoval and Valencia counties. Trains, planes and automobiles all play a role in his duties, but so does keeping pace with the changing faces of Albuquerque and the surrounding metropolitan areas, and the people who live there.

Doyle is trying to construct a transportation network that would allow residents to live in central New Mexico without owning a car. Airport shuttles already move people to the International Sunport. It is already possible to take your bicycle to a bus stop, ride the bus to a New Mexico Rail Runner Express station, relax as the train carries you to Santa Fe, and then spend the day exploring the City Different’s galleries, shops and museums on two wheels before going home following the network in reverse order.

Those amenities may not sound critical to some, but in Doyle’s mind transportation opportunities like those will make Albuquerque competitive with other regional cities like Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso and Denver when it comes to attracting employers.

A Good Mix of Housing and Transportation

Doyle, a graduate of California State University-Fullerton, is a civil engineer registered in both California and New Mexico. He moved to New Mexico in 1997 to work for the State Department of Transportation, and was involved in the restructuring of the intersection of Interstates 25 and 40. He and his wife, Gretchen own two dogs, and he drives a pickup. “However, I recently started commuting by bicycle a few days a week.”

downtown abq nightHe also rides the Rail Runner once a month or so to make sure the level of service on the train remains excellent. His insight into New Mexico’s transportation network and those of other cities in the urban West are factors in his vision for transportation here.

“In order for us to keep pace with other metropolitan areas,” Doyle says, “we need a really good mix of living accommodations and transportation.” Since the economic downturn of 2007 to 2008, we have recovered a number of jobs, but they are not the same jobs we lost. Many of them are in the service-industry sector, and not career-level positions.”

The living spaces Doyle envisions are already being constructed in the form of condominiums along Central Ave. and other arteries connecting Albuquerque’s Downtown to Nob Hill. Albuquerque Rapid Transit should one day move shoppers, students and employees to and from those hubs.

Combine New Mexico’s typically great weather with public transportation and convenient, comfortable housing, and major employers could find the Rio Metro region a pretty attractive place.

“We don’t have hurricanes like Houston,” he says. “And if people can walk to a transportation hub, they can make a choice of whether or not to own a car. We have some options here that could get major employers to look at us a little differently, but we have got to get our cultural amenities and infrastructure in place to compete.”

What industries would he pursue?

“Because of the labs here, tech transfer to the private sector should be one area where we focus our energy. Health care would be another, and we have an opportunity to be pretty good at marketing in both areas,” he says. “It will, however, require some consistency in our messaging. It can’t be the three counties and all the cities in them competing with each other.”

Multifaceted Approach

Doyle is quick to point out that there’s transportation…and then there’s transportation innovation.

“I’m happy to report that thanks to a dedicated and hard-working staff – Rio Metro remains on the cutting edge of both! There’s no way we could ever accomplish what we’ve been able to do in these twelve years without the tremendous vision and foresight of the people who work here.”

Under the auspices of Rio Metro, there is everything from the customer service and marketing side of the house to the “wheels on the ground” staff, such as the operators, drivers, mechanics – and many more who keep things rolling along, business as usual.

“Their efforts have allowed us to maintain a seamless operation as far as the public is concerned, and they seem to do it day-in-and-day-out with smiles on their faces.”, adds Doyle.

A Small Piece

train crossing 2The Rail Runner itself is a small piece of the transportation puzzle, Doyle says, but it is an important piece and with it comes some special challenges. Positive Train Control is a series of Federal regulations requiring New Mexico to invest millions to prevent collisions the Rail Runner has not experienced.

“In 12 years of operation we have never had a high-speed derailment, or a train-to-train crash,” he says. “Our accidents have been related to trespass on our tracks.”

Some New Mexicans also believe the Rail Runner is a project that costs the state too much. Doyle counters with the more than 250 living-wage maintenance and operations jobs the Rail Runner contributes to the state’s economy.

Those jobs are funded through a mix of gross receipts taxes, federal funds, fares and fees.

“A total of $14.3 million is collected from existing local transit gross receipts taxes in our three counties, and those funds support the Rail Runner,” Doyle says. “Another $17 million in federal funds come to the state because the Rail Runner is operating. That money is from two nationwide locales based on fixed guideway commuter rail operations.”

Annual ridership fares contribute $2.2 million, he says, and another $2.2 million are fees paid by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and Amtrak for use of the tracks owned by the state.

The State of New Mexico is responsible for serving the debt incurred during Rail Runner construction, but the state also provides incentives for other industries like film production and tourism.

Building Bridges

All of the public transportation options available in the three-county Rio Metro region – the train, buses and the growing public bicycling network – are designed to get people out of their cars, and Doyle points to the transit gross receipts taxes as the public’s willingness to change their transportation habits. The Belen-to-Bernalillo metro area also might not have a lot of other options.

“The last river crossing constructed was Montaño,” Doyle says, “and that took 20 years.”

Doyle recognizes that not all citizens of the Rio Metro region and the state will be willing to live in condominiums and live without a personal vehicle, but as more mindsets change he is doing everything he can to make the region as attractive to them as possible.

Story by: Martin Frentzel