Ride budget may be wise investment
Glenwood Springs City Council Member Dan Richardson may be right: Maybe City Council has been asking the wrong question regarding its Ride Glenwood Springs in-town bus service.Rather than trying to figure out how the service can live within its budget, perhaps the city should look at whether it can expand that budget. That may sound like a daunting proposition at a time when the city faces difficult financial choices at every turn.But it’s a good time to talk some more about an issue that council has already heavily discussed. That’s because it soon plans to decide what measures to propose funding with a transportation tax that will go before voters this fall. While there’s no shortage of things the city would like to do with the tax, they’re all focused on road projects. Perhaps if the city significantly improved its in-town bus service, it would take some of the pressure off its road needs.A dedicated sales tax already goes to the bus service, generating more than a half-million dollars a year. But it’s only enough to fund a limited service. A divided council has decided it can afford to make the service free and frequent, but can only run buses along the town’s main corridor, leaving many neighborhoods unserved.To many, the decision raises the question of what point there is in having a bus service. Voters didn’t intend it to serve primarily tourists, and if that is to be its purpose, a tax more specifically targeting that industry should pay for it.If it’s meant to be serving more than tourists, it’s falling short. The goal of the free-and-frequent approach is to make Ride Glenwood Springs successful enough that its service area can be enlarged over time, but it’s unclear where the money for that would come from.Some experts say transit can never do much to reduce traffic. But it stands to reason that the more who take the bus, the fewer who will need to take a car.Some city officials have expressed fears that even with all of the ongoing traffic improvements being made, city streets will be overwhelmed when Glenwood Meadows opens. Meanwhile, city staff didn’t even include a south bridge access route at the other end of Midland among its recommendations to be funded by a transportation tax ballot measure. Officials are worried about better maintaining existing streets and paying off existing transportation-related debt.This could be an opportune time to make a bigger investment in a transportation solution that doesn’t involve building and maintaining more roads. If council doesn’t believe in the worth of providing a citywide bus service, maybe it should ask voters to end the bus tax in favor of other transportation investments. But if the bus service is worth having, it may be worth asking voters to fund it to a point that it makes a real difference.
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