Why don’t more people ride the bus? This was the discussion that a co-worker and I had the other day. She is an avowed transit customer. Me, not so much. I am more of a transit patron — a fan and supporter — than a transit rider. I live close enough that it would take me longer to get to a transit stop than it takes me to drive to work. I am part of the one-third of traffic in Glenwood that is purely local. However, that is likely to change when bridge construction gets into full swing.
How important is mass transit to our area? For many, like my co-worker, it is an absolute necessity. We are fortunate to have model transportation in the form of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA). Glenwood Springs also has its own service, Ride Glenwood, for transportation within the city. It’s not perfect, but for a rural area — a truly rural area, not just a suburb of a large city — it is an amenity that makes Glenwood Springs and the area from Rifle to Aspen extra special.
An article in The Atlantic Cities, published on Feb. 6, 2014, “The real barriers to abundant, all-day transit service,” tied into our conversation and touched on some of the items my co-worker and I discussed. The article (www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2014/02/real-barriers-abundant-all-day-transit-service/8298/), authored by Jarrett Walker, an international planning consultant specializing in public transportation, cites several reasons abundant, all-day transit is becoming an urgent need.
Transit provides opportunity. Given that we have a transit system in the Colorado and Roaring Fork valleys, residents are afforded much better prospects for gainful employment. Chances are, particularly from Glenwood to Aspen, there will be bus service matching most work schedules. The start of RFTA’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), the first rural BRT in the nation, last September was a huge step in providing frequent, faster service from Glenwood to Aspen.
One of the major barriers, that I see, in getting people out of their cars and into buses is the fear of being “stuck” and not being able to get a quick connection home if ill or get to a sick child or loved one in an emergency. This risk is reduced by more frequent service with expanded hours — thereby increasing the comfort level. The Atlantic City article states, “You can get trapped if you have to work late or leave early, so peak commuters value service at other times, too, even if they never use it. What’s more, you won’t use transit to get there unless you’re sure you can get back, so the ridership at various times of day is interrelated.” A “guaranteed ride home” — whether provided by an employer or transit agency — could go a long way to alleviate anxiety and increase ridership.
Walker also makes an interesting observation. He states the transit agency decision making process, in determining routes and frequency is flawed. Transit agencies are eager to respond to public comment and make decisions based on what they have heard. The problem is that information is skewed. He maintains that those with the most time on their hands, retired folks and non-working disabled provide the most frequent feedback to transit agencies. Transit officials rarely hear from busy, working people because, frankly, they are too busy. Our agencies should make an effort to get suggestions and feedback from this group.
A more challenging problem is what Walker terms “false polarization.” He gives the example that busy, low-income people can benefit from either increased service (saving time) or reduced fares (saving money). Those with adequate income levels could benefit more from more frequent service. Those advocating for low-income groups often advocate only for low-cost, or free, bus service a benefit mainly to them, rather than more frequent service — benefiting both groups.
We are fortunate to have RFTA and Ride Glenwood available. Given the upcoming bridge construction, it would behoove us to begin getting people out of their cars and into transit now! This must be a collaborative effort between RFTA, all the municipalities, and employers from Aspen to Rifle.
— Kathy Trauger is a Glenwood Springs resident and writer who blogs about Glenwood Springs at www.ourtownglenwoodsprings.com. She chairs the Glenwood Springs Planning & Zoning Commission and is a member of the Transportation Commission and the Victims and Law Enforcement Board.