Glenwood bus service racking up riders
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Ridership on Glenwood Springs’ city bus service set an all-time monthly record in March, and should only increase more with the restoration of service to the south part of town on Tuesday.
Last month, 39,789 people used Ride Glenwood Springs. The previous record was 39,058, set last July.
So far this year, the service is on pace to easily break last year’s ridership total, which was itself by far a record.
In 2006, 379,148 people took the bus, up from 210,000 in 2005. Already this year, 111,613 people have ridden the bus over the first three months, almost 50 percent more than over the same time frame a year earlier.
The city’s bus numbers have soared ever since early 2005, when City Council made changes that included eliminating fares and focusing the coverage area on the core parts of town. Before last year, the service’s highest ridership was 226,000, in 1999, when it also had been free.
One casualty of the 2005 changes was service to south Glenwood Springs. However, after a rise in revenues from the city’s 0.2-cent bus sales tax, council decided to restore that service through the implementation of a feeder line that would connect with the main bus route.
City engineer Mike McDill called the bus system’s record ridership in March a pleasant surprise.
“It just seems to continue to rise. … It’s a tribute to the people who are willing to leave their cars at home and use the buses,” he said.
City Council member Chris McGovern said in an e-mail to city Transportation Commission members that it’s important that the Colorado Department of Transportation be made aware of the success of the service. CDOT had asked the city to try to reduce traffic on Highway 82 through downtown on Grand Avenue by encouraging alternative transportation.
“The city has done a fantastic job,” she said.
The city and CDOT are exploring a range of options for addressing increasing congestion on Grand Avenue, including creation of a new route in the area of the old railroad corridor east of the Roaring Fork River. McGovern hopes the success of the bus service might result in Glenwood being moved up on the regional priority list for CDOT funding that would address the Grand Avenue congestion.
McDill said that might be tough, given the limited pool of funding and high level of competition for it. But he agreed with McGovern that the city can make the case for having done its part in offering mass transit as an alternative to more vehicle traffic. If every bus rider saves one vehicle trip, that keeps 1,300 vehicles off the road each day, he said.
The big question for McDill is where the service goes from here. If growth continues at the current rate, the bus service soon could be trying to accommodate 50,000 riders a month.
“I think we can do it but there’s going to be people standing on the bus a lot,” McDill said.
The city runs two buses on its main route, and contracted to have a van run the new feeder route. McDill said if growing demand warranted adding a third bus to the main route, that could cost $300,000 to $400,000 a year. The city doesn’t have much financial flexibility to expand the service to that degree, at least under the limited revenues provided by the bus tax, he said.
Still, he said it’s a good problem for the city to face.
“It’s kind of wonderful to be pushed to this kind of decision by this kind of use,” he said.
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