Travelers will have to pony up
Soon, like the girl in the classic Beatles song, users of The Traveler will need a ticket to ride.
Beginning Feb. 1, in an effort to make up for state budget cuts and collect more money from riders for the Colorado Mountain College Traveler program, administrators will require seniors and other riders to contribute their fair share by requiring a ticket for every ride.
The tickets cost $1 apiece, a great bargain when the service’s benefits are weighed, said Debera Stewart, the director of senior programs for CMC.
“That’s a lot less than what it costs to run the Traveler,” she said.
Traveler riders who could afford it always were encouraged to at least make donations to the program when they get a ride – $1 per ride was suggested – but Stewart says some took advantage of the program and didn’t make the requested donation.
“Thank you to the many who participate faithfully in placing your fare in the donation box – and shame on you for those who take advantage of the system,” Stewart wrote in CMC’s Communique newsletter.
There also was a recent theft from the fare box, just one more reason Stewart decided to use tickets only.
The tickets can be purchased from drivers, through local meal sites, at the Rifle Senior Center office or at the Glenwood Springs office. They can be bought individually or in packs for $1 apiece.
Stewart said the actual cost of running the Traveler is closer to $8 per trip, but with state funds and contributions from local organizations such as the Rotary Club and the United Way, they are able to charge riders just more than 12 percent of that cost.
“We’ve been extremely lucky to have so many people work with us,” she said of the organizations that have helped bear costs of running The Traveler.
Stewart also explained that the Traveler service goes over and above what the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has the ability to provide. That’s one of the reasons the cost per ride is so high.
“We’re a door-to-door service,” she said. “Our drivers will carry groceries and help people with wheelchairs.”
Through donations from riders, Stewart said the program has been recouping an average of only 65 cents per rider each ride, not enough to keep the program going.
In all, the Traveler program makes 22,000 trips per year all over Garfield County. Traveler vehicles covered more than 70,000 miles in 2002.
The service caters to senior citizens and to disabled people of all ages. It’s mostly geared toward providing people with rides to accomplish the necessities of life, such as medical appointments, food shopping, bringing people to senior meals and bringing younger disabled people – who can’t or don’t drive – to work. But social visits and shopping trips can sometimes be accommodated.
“It takes a lot of time for the drivers to collect money,” Stewart said.
Also, Traveler riders will have the opportunity to fill out a hardship application. This, Stewart hopes, will give seniors who are not able to pay for their ride the appearance that they’re paying.
There are seniors who won’t take the bus if they can’t pay, she said. With the tickets, it will be impossible for their peers to tell who actually pays for the ride and who is being subsidized.
“A lot of them have too much pride,” Stewart said. “If they have a hardship, it looks better if they have tickets.”
Like all other state-funded programs, the Traveler program is facing state budget cuts. In 2002, there was a total of 8 percent cut from the budget. And Stewart said she expects that number to grow to 10 or 12 percent before all is said and done.
“The Traveler runs on a pretty limited budget as it is,” Stewart said. “Everybody has budget cuts. It affects us the same way. All these hard legislative decisions affect everybody. When those budget cuts come, they come from babies to seniors.”
And talking about babies to seniors, Stewart said the Traveler’s customers range in age from 7 to 102.
“It covers a bigger range than a lot of people know about,” she said.
For more information on the Traveler program, purchasing tickets or receiving a hardship waiver, call 947-8464.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.