City shuttle to Belen to be suspended next week

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On the heels of an accident involving a Socorro Transportation Department shuttle bus on Interstate 25 last week, the city administration has decided to temporarily suspend out-of-town shuttle operations.

Beginning Monday, April 23, the thrice-daily commuter shuttles to the Belen Railrunner station will be halted, although they are expected to resume shortly. The daily shuttle, which runs into Socorro from Alamo and Magdalena, arriving in the early morning and returning in the evening, will be cancelled until further notice.

In-town transportation will continue as usual.

Mayor Ravi Bhasker announced the decision at the Monday, April 16, city council meeting.

“The accident was a wake-up call for the city as far as transportation, what we’re involved in,” Bhasker said. “We’ve suspended the route to Belen until we look into this further.”

The accident occurred Thursday, April 12, when driver Jesus Gonzales collided with an SUV on a return trip from the Railrunner station and sustained serious but non-life-threatening injuries. He had no passengers in the van at the time.

Bhasker said the type of van used by the Transportation Department does not require operators to have a commercial driver’s license, but the city is planning to make it a requirement. He also mentioned the possibility of the city acquiring a 20-passenger bus that runs on natural gas, equipped with GPS which will allow the driver’s speed to be monitored and an on-board camera.

Bhasker said the investigation into the accident has not been completed, and he does not know what happened or whether speed was a factor. He said the city may look into hiring the services of an “accident reconstructionist” to take a look into the matter.

The shuttle runs will continue until next Monday to give commuters a chance to make other arrangement.

“People out there are somewhat upset,” Bhasker said. “We can probably pick up the Belen route again, because one driver does have CDL certification, but Alamo and Magdalena will be suspended. We’re not going to abandon it, but we have to take another look at the safety precautions.”

City Clerk Pat Salome said the city is studying what happened with the idea that when service is restored, the shuttle program will be stronger, better and safer.

“We need to have a plan for how we’re going to run these long-distance routes,” Salome said. “We just couldn’t ignore what happened. We wanted to follow up on it.”

Salome said in a phone interview on Tuesday that the city’s decision to suspend operations is not really about the accident that occurred last week, but about preventing the next one.

Bhasker said while the city is looking at safety issues, the other thing that may need to be done is to prohibit or restrict the use of cellphones in city vehicles, on city time.

“Ten years ago I didn’t see it as much as I do now,” Bhasker said.

“To me it’s a no-brainer to try and increase the attention people pay on the road.”

 


-- Email the author at sbarteau@dchieftain.com.