ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta is almost here. Now, organizers are revamping the Park and Ride bus service.
This comes after years of people getting stranded in mall parking lots, far from the balloons. Officials said changes had to be made to make sure people wanting a ride don’t miss the mass ascension like in years past.
“We want to make sure they get here and are not stranded like they were in 2018,” AIBF transportation manager Dennis Christianson said.
You do not have to tell AIBF organizers how disastrous last year’s Park and Ride was.
“It was brought home to us that we are balloon event experts,” AIBF executive director Paul Smith said. “We are not traffic experts.”
A record 21,000 people waited to use the service at Cottonwood and Coronado Malls, Intel in Rio Rancho, and Hoffmantown Church on Hopper.
Organizers underestimated the demand, oversold tickets and left people stranded in parking lots, even missing the event.
“There has been numerous upgrades,” AIBF board of directors president Ty Young said. “It was the right thing to do. We realized the shortcomings from last year.”
Now, officials are limiting the number of ticket sales to make sure everyone has a spot on the buses. They are also only selling tickets online.
They are adding 10 city buses to the fleet of 225 contracted school buses. Officials say the city buses hold nearly 20 more passengers each than the school buses at no additional cost.
“What we are running is what we usually do for special events, so the changes for the main routes are no different than any other special event,” Mayor Tim Keller said.
They will be loading as many as 24 buses at a time at each location instead of trying to load 4,000 people onto four buses, which they said happened last year.
“We will get people in quicker and decrease the cycle time,” Christianson said.
Instead of one crowded drop off inside the park like in years past, half of the Park and Ride buses will drop off passengers at a new location along Balloon Museum Drive.
“By splitting up Park and Ride in two different locations for drop off, we are going to cut congestion in half,” Mayor Keller said.
They are also moving the RVs to a lot near the north end of the field where access is limited, opening up 1000 parking spaces on the south side of Alameda.
Ride-share services are also being moved from the overflow lot on Balloon Museum Drive to the north lot on the outskirts of the park.
They said they are doing all this to clear out congestion inside the park.
Fiesta said it worked with the city, county, UNM, and NMDOT on these changes. While the city said they are limiting the number of Park and Ride passengers they are allowing this year, they would not give us an estimate.