Editorial: Protect the money for Bustang | PostIndependent.com

Editorial: Protect the money for Bustang

A crowded Bustang prepares to depart Glenwood Springs' 27th Street station on the morning after the 2016 X Games.
Will Grandbois / Post Independent |

We have plenty about which we can disagree today, nationally, statewide and locally. In too many cases, we think, ideology drowns out progress.

Here are a couple things we think most of us can agree on: Interstate 70 through the mountains is crowded and irritating, and traveling to Denver periodically is a necessary pain and occasional pleasure for almost all of us living on the Western Slope.

So if we have a relatively inexpensive government program that is taking a few vehicles off the road each day, provides residents with a choice of how to travel and holds the promise of taking some stress out of the trip to Denver, the Post Independent is for it.

Of course we’re talking about Bustang, the Colorado Department of Transportation bus service whose westernmost pickup point is Glenwood Springs.

Some Republicans don’t like subsidizing transit programs and are working to shift money used to support Bustang to hard infrastructure — pavement, bridges and the like. A bill reallocating money that goes to transit programs, including Bustang, passed the Colorado Senate last week.

This is a bad idea stuck in 20th century thinking of putting every transportation penny into more pavement, promoting the use of cars. Old thinking stifles innovation that might solve growing problems.

Bustang launched last July and, on its western route, which starts in Glenwood with stops in Eagle, Vail and Frisco, is averaging 30 to 40 passengers daily in each direction. Bustang also runs on I-25, from Fort Collins and Colorado Springs to Denver, where the service averages 20-30 passengers a day per route.

“The Bustang service has been very well received in the public,” Amy Ford, CDOT communications director, told the PI last week.

“The west route in particular has been an incredible success,” she said. Fares on the western route are covering 60 percent of costs, well above projections.

Before Bustang launched, we were surprised by the high online readership of stories about the still-upcoming service. We were eager to see if that translated to people actually taking the bus, and have been pleased that it has.

We’re pleased by this because Colorado’s population is going to keep growing, and we need a range of solutions to break away from the one-person, one-car transportation model that chokes our roads and communities. We aren’t going to build more rural freeways, widen I-70 or add high-speed rail — because of physical constraints, high initial costs and, in the case of rail, partly because of the aforementioned political opposition to mass transit.

We think Bustang is a piece of the bigger puzzle of how to ease our traffic problem.

We also think part of the case for Bustang is a safety argument. A person on a bus can sleep, work, surf the Internet (Bustang is WiFi-equipped), text, read and more things that drivers can’t do.

If the bus succeeds in taking even 20 or 30 cars a day off the I-70 mountain corridor, it’s good — particularly if some of those cars are older vehicles more prone to breakdown or running on crummy tires.

Sure, that’s not many cars, but if the program continues to be as popular as it’s been in the early months, buses can be added. Already, CDOT has expanded to seven days a week from western Colorado and is considering adding a second trip per day.

The early success also shows that regional mass transit can work and helps people get into the habit — a habit we need.

We also need workers in our mountain towns, some of whom lack great personal transportation. At $28 for a one-way ticket (less from Eagle, Vail and Frisco), and combined with RFTA in our region, bus service can go a long way toward reducing these folks’ costs and increasing their ability to get around.

That’s part of the argument for Bustang.

The argument against it, it seems, is based not on practicality and problem-solving, but on ideological purity and fails to appreciate what it’s like to not have great personal transportation or simply to not want to deal with driving and urban parking.

Colorado Republicans have continually fought the 2009 law that created an additional surcharge for auto registration to fund transportation projects — Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery Act, or FASTER. FASTER raises $200 million a year, of which $10 million a year is used for statewide transit projects, including $3 million for Bustang. Another $5 million goes to a local grant program.

Opponents have argued that the fee increase was a tax that should have been submitted to voters, have tried to strip the transit money to send to counties and contend that its use on transit is constitutionally barred (see guest opinion).

The legality of FASTER has been litigated, though, and the program is established.

Subsidies aren’t sins. We subsidize all manner of things, directly and indirectly. For example, the $125 million Grand Avenue bridge replacement, the type of project favored under the Senate-passed bill, is a terrific indirect subsidy for Aspen commerce.

While opponents of transit subsidies argue that relatively few people take buses, they don’t offer an alternative to how we might reduce traffic.

We believe Bustang serves that greater good. Protect it.

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