Glenwood to institute fare for city bus service

John Stroud
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The City Council will proceed with a plan to implement a fare system for the Ride Glenwood city bus service.

In doing so, the city will be able to take advantage of a $210,000 federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant that will cover the cost of installing the system. That grant was otherwise set to expire this month.

“If it’s a question of implementing a small fare, versus possibly not having the bus service at all, it seems like an easy decision,” Councilman Todd Leahy said at the regular Thursday night City Council meeting.

Council followed Leahy’s suggestion, voting 7-0 to retain the grant and begin working to implement a fare system.

How much to charge and other details will still need to be worked out in the coming months.

City officials have been discussing a possible return to a fare system for Ride Glenwood, as existed prior to 2005, due to declining bus tax funds, as well as city street tax funds that are used to subsidize the in-city bus service.

“The bus operation has been struggling financially for a number of years, and has required more and more subsidy,” City Manager Jeff Hecksel advised council.

That has reduced the amount of funds available for routine street maintenance, he said.

Short of charging a fare, it’s also possible the bus service could have to be eliminated altogether if costs continue to outpace available revenues, Hecksel said.

Ride Glenwood is operated under contract with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which also runs the valleywide bus system from Aspen to Rifle.

In an attempt to rein in costs, the City Council agreed earlier this year to eliminate the South Glenwood shuttle route and to reduce hours of service on the main line. Even with that, it’s not known if funding will be adequate for the remainder of this year, let alone next year, Hecksel said.

The ARRA grant had been awarded to the city through the Colorado Department of Transportation to cover the cost to implement a fare system. But the city has been waiting to accept the money until it knew for sure that a fare would be necessary.

“I support staff’s recommendation [to implement a fare],” Councilman Leo McKinney said.

“I live in a part of town where we have to drive down a very shoddy street,” he said, referring to the southern portion of Midland Avenue leading to Glenwood Park and Cardiff Glen. “I see how the bus system is depleting our street funds, and if we can’t fix our roads because we’re subsidizing the bus, then we need a fare.”

In earlier discussions, as suggested in the city’s recently adopted Five Year Transit Operation Plan, a $1 fare per ride had been considered.

That amount, collected over a year’s time, would generate around $220,000 to put toward the annual $1 million cost to operate Ride Glenwood, according to assistant city public works director Dave Betley.

It would be in addition to what’s still coming into the city’s dedicated bus tax fund, and also assumes an estimated 31 percent drop in ridership when the fare is implemented.

The likelihood that ridership on the city buses would go down had prompted the Glenwood Springs Transportation Commission to recommend against a fare, at least until the numbers for this year are better known.

But, “If we have to end up eliminating bus service altogether, no one has access to transit,” Hecksel pointed out.

The council can get creative in implementing a fare system. Mayor Matt Steckler suggested a nominal fare simply to satisfy the terms of accepting the federal grant for now, unless it’s determined later in the year that a larger amount is necessary to cover costs.

Leahy also suggested that riders be allowed to pay a single fare that would be good for a certain period of time, as long as they show a transfer ticket when they re-board a bus.

One new Glenwood Springs resident said she relies on Ride Glenwood to get around town, and suggested a discount or possible even free rides for senior citizens who are on fixed incomes.

“I ride the system daily, and I was very impressed and very grateful when I moved here that it existed,” said Sue Clark, adding she’d be willing to volunteer in some capacity for the city in exchange for a bus pass.

Discounts or free use could also be extended to other types of users who are less able to pay, she said.