Bus fuss lingers
Nearly three months after City Council decided to scale back Ride Glenwood Springs, the decision is continuing to prove difficult to implement, and for some council members, hard to accept.”I think I’d have to say that this is probably my biggest disappointment that I’ve faced since I’ve been on council,” council member Dan Richardson said last week.Richardson, in his fourth year on council, and two other council members who oppose the cut in service area, again criticized the decision Thursday, when city staff asked for more flexibility in meeting council’s new Ride Glenwood Springs policy. That policy calls for more frequent service, but over a smaller part of town. Council’s March vote made the service free as well.”It is one of the most disappointing decisions of my council year,” said Dave Merritt, who argued passionately against the action when council instituted the change. Merritt’s ward covers south Glenwood, which lost service under the decision.That same decision was one of the most difficult made by council member Bruce Christensen, who joined in supporting the changes. Christensen also is executive director of Mountain Valley Developmental Services, and some of that organization’s developmentally disabled clients had spoken out against the changes to Ride Glenwood Springs.”I’ve been beaten up pretty bad on it,” Christensen said in a recent interview.”I was in a really awkward spot in that whole thing. I was put in this horrible position of casting what turned out to be the deciding vote.”
But he contends MVDS clients aren’t suffering under the decision. Besides, he said, as a council member he had to consider what was best for the entire city.”I had to have my city council hat on and not my Mountain Valley hat,” he said.Council revisited its decision last week at the request of city manager Jeff Hecksel. The city found that the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority was having difficulty complying with council’s decision to provide 20-minute service along all city routes. As a result, the city Transportation Commission recommended eliminating service to the Valley View Hospital area. It also suggested dropping council’s requirement to have the bus stop at the planned RFTA park-and-ride and at the Gilstrap Conoco station, both in West Glenwood, beginning this fall.Those revisions upset city resident Russ Arensman, who wrote to council, “If the Ride Glenwood bus service is going to become primarily a shuttle for tourists, then fine, feel free to discontinue stops at Valley View Hospital and the RFTA park-and-ride, as you’ve already decided to do for all of south Glenwood Springs. What the heck, it’ll probably run smoother if you also cut out stops near Safeway, City Market and any of the schools.” In an e-mailed response to Arensman, council member Chris McGovern said that Ride Glenwood Springs services the city’s main corridor, and notes that the system recently added a stop by Glenwood Springs High School. She also said the bus will continue to stop within walking distance of the hospital, and will arrange for pickups by the hospital when needed. Christensen said even the old service didn’t deliver immobile patients all the way to the hospital’s door.Council voted 4-3 Thursday to approve the revisions to Ride Glenwood Springs requested by Hecksel. Council member Larry Beckwith joined Merritt and Richardson in opposing Hecksel’s request. He wondered what other bus stop might be eliminated next.”Do we turn around at 27th Street and let everybody walk to Wal-Mart, too? Where does this thing end? … Does the demand for 20-minute service drive everything?” he asked. “… It seems like we’re going downhill and backward instead of moving it forward,” he said of the bus service.Hecksel said the goal of frequent service was only one reason council decided to make changes to Ride Glenwood Springs. So was the desire to increase ridership by making fares free, to add more coverage area as the budget improves, and to live within a limited budget.
Ride Glenwood Springs had been hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget, and the council majority had voted to cut service to South Glenwood because it was costing a lot of money yet serving few riders.Richardson said the city also has abandoned service to the Community Center, and doesn’t know when RFTA will provide it. It’s also now easier for tourists to drive to the Hot Springs Pool than to take the bus there, he said.Richardson, who was in Europe in a fellowship program during the March vote, said more public input should have been obtained before making a decision that turns out to have been unworkable.Countered council member Joe O’Donnell, “I think we gave more than enough time for the public to comment and we heard both sides of the issue.”Richardson said council also should have looked at seeking more bus funding. But O’Donnell said the city currently needs tax increases “for a half a dozen things,” and needs to stick to its Ride Glenwood Springs budget.Critics question making bus fares free if the budget is an issue. Supporters say free fares improve ridership and make the city’s investment in the service more worthwhile. Merritt take issue with a five-year plan that assumes a free, frequent Ride Glenwood Springs will grow in popularity until service can be restored to most of town.”It has no design in it for future revenue other than hoping the sales tax grows,” Merritt said.Meanwhile, Christensen continues to feel the sting of having been asked during a past council meeting whether he believes in Mountain Valley’s mission. That mission includes helping clients work in an independent, inclusive manner within the community. In fact, Christensen said, few MVDS clients used the bus service. And while it would be nice for clients to be able to get around via public transit, it’s Mountain Valley’s responsibility and not the city’s to make sure they have adequate transportation, he said. He said MVDS has come up with carpools and other forms of transportation to make sure clients can get to jobs or bus stops.
“Mountain Valley’s got 30 vehicles that are driving around all the time, so we’ve picked that up, and have to,” he said.While MVDS has offices in Glenwood Park in south Glenwood, none of its clients live there, and clients coming there weren’t using the bus, he said.Christensen said he felt some opponents of the change in bus service inappropriately appealed to public sympathy by suggesting disabled people would be harmed.He said he couldn’t support the city spending $200,000 to continue service to south Glenwood when ridership there was low, even if it would have helped a few MVDS clients.”I think that would have been a horrible conflict of interest,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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