Glenwood bus a victim of its own success
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Glenwood Springs’ in-town bus service is becoming a victim of its own success, meaning some difficult decisions await city officials.
Record ridership is requiring the city to look at buying bigger buses, which means it may not be able to afford to fully implement a long-term plan that is supposed to include restoring service to south Glenwood.
That has led city engineer Mike McDill to suggest that City Council ask voters to approve an additional 0.1 percent sales tax to expand the service.
But Councilman Dave Merritt, who represents south Glenwood and long has called for service to be brought back there, said the tax hike idea “is terrible.”
Merritt believes voters living outside south Glenwood would have little incentive to vote for the tax increase.
“You have to have a tax that has benefits to the entire community,” he said.
Merritt said the reverse is now true, with south Glenwood residents not getting service, but paying a bus sales tax along with the rest of town.
Council did away with bus routes in south Glenwood about a year and a half ago because of low ridership there, and a desire to eliminate fares and provide frequent, concentrated service on main corridors. The hope was to increase ridership and get more for the city’s investment in the service.
Ridership has continued to set records, topping 30,000 a month in May and nearing 40,000 in July. The service had provided 204,736 rides this year through July. Its highest ridership for a full year was 226,000 in 1999, when the service also was free.
This year’s ridership is on pace to more than double the annual average over the past few years, and could easily top 300,000.
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which contracts to provide the in-town bus service, has been loaning one of its 40-passenger buses to the city to make sure there is room for everyone wanting to ride.
Meanwhile, a 30-passenger bus the city bought from Goshen Coach this year has had numerous mechanical problems that frequently put it out of service. Goshen repeatedly delayed delivery on two more of the buses. Those delays, combined with the problems with the first bus, caused the city to cancel its order for the new ones.
RFTA is offering to sell two larger, 1-year-old buses to the city, one for about $247,000 now and the other for about $237,000 next year. McDill is recommending that the city buy the first bus now, and the other one when funding allows.
But those expenses prohibit the possibility of spending well above $300,000 a year to restore service to south Glenwood, absent a new funding source.
Merritt thinks council should look to the city’s general fund to make that happen. But McDill notes in a memo on the bus service that that would require cuts in other areas now being paid for out of the general fund.
“I believe the best permanent solution would be to show the community how well we are investing the current bus tax and ask them if extending the system down into the Cardiff Glen area is worth the extra 0.1 cent,” he writes. “If the Council is content with the current level of service, no additional revenue will be needed.”
City manager Jeff Hecksel said everyone on council would like to implement the city’s long-term bus plan fully. The challenge is figuring out how to pay for it.
The council is expected to discuss the issue Oct. 5.
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Gov. Jared Polis announced Wednesday that via executive order he has suspended collection of the 2.9% sales tax that businesses must typically return to the government. That means businesses affected by the executive order — bars, restaurants and food trucks — can hang onto an extra $2.90 per $100 in revenue.