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Last call for Buzz Bus?

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Weekend revelers pile on the Buzz Bus in north Durango. Starting in 2014, bar patrons and others downtown may have to find another way to get home. The city says the service is losing money and cutting it will save $32,409.90. In 2012, 3,882 riders used it, and so far this year, 2,790.

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

Like many late-night workers and bar patrons, Anna Hebert has depended on the Buzz Bus for safe rides home from downtown.

As a Buzz Bus bonus, Hebert has often benefitted from the advice of the driver, Kelly Toliver.

“She will talk to you when you’re hammered. She’s like a mom to everyone. She’s so sweet,” Hebert said.

“She used to tell me my ex-boyfriend was (no good), that I should never talk to him again, that I deserved better,” Hebert said.

Next year, Hebert and other transit riders might have to make taxi-cab confessions.

The Buzz Bus, which operates between 10:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, is slated to go away in 2014 as part of a budget cut to help make up a $500,000 hole in the city’s transit budget.

The elimination of the Buzz Bus would save the city $32,409.90. Last year, it served 3,882 riders. It has served 2,790 riders to date, according to the city.

City officials have said Buzz Bus riders should turn to private cabs and limousines for safe rides home, arguing that cab and limousine fees are comparable to the Buzz Bus’s $5 charge.

“We can’t afford the service,” City Manager Ron LeBlanc said. “The $5 charge doesn’t cover the cost to run the bus. We now have limo and taxi cab companies that can perform the service.”

Amber Blake, the city’s multimodal director, did a price check and said taxis and limos won’t cost riders more and may even be cheaper, especially with group rates.

“So really, cutting the Buzz Bus service is not going to leave a big hole in getting a safe ride home,” Blake said.

With limousines, late-night revelers will have to think ahead to call for a reservation, Blake said.

Milton Williams of Durango Taxi said the loss of the Buzz Bus could be a “big opportunity” as the cab service could easily expand from two to three cabs working downtown on Fridays and Saturdays.

Williams said his rate, as approved by the state, starts at $3 per person and $3 per mile. So one person going from El Rancho on 10th Street to 32nd Street and Main Avenue would cost $9. Four people going the same distance would be $18.

Buzz Bus riders are screaming no fair. They consider the Buzz Bus a priceless service.

“I always thought it was a great part of this town,” said Ryan Davidson, who works the front door at El Rancho Tavern and takes the Buzz Bus home from work on Friday and Saturday nights.

“A lot of people won’t pay the money to get in these expensive cabs, that’s what makes kids drive. That’s why I think (the Buzz Bus makes) such a big difference,” Davidson said.

Hebert also worries that “one of those people who could have taken the Buzz Bus might go kill someone.” She said that Durango won’t be the same without it.

“I think it would be really sad if they got rid of the Buzz Bus,” she said. “Imagine Snowdown without the Buzz Bus. It’s going to be terrible. How are all those people going to go anywhere? And Halloween?”

Hebert always appreciated that the Buzz Bus ran “on Halloween even when Halloween was on a weeknight.”

The city advises those who don’t agree with the city’s proposed budget to take it up with the City Council, whose final vote on the budget won’t be until December.

Beside the Buzz Bus, the city is also proposing to cut weekend transit service, charge Trolley riders $1, and double the monthly pass from $20 to $40.

To explain the proposed cuts, Blake said operational costs are increasing while revenue has stayed flat or declined. The monthly pass has not gone up since 1990.

Transit does not receive a subsidy from the city’s general fund because it’s supposed to be self-supporting as an enterprise fund.

“You’ve had the same amount of money to run the services, but the costs of the services keeps increasing,” Blake said. “Everyone knows the gas prices have increased. You can save $48,000 a year in just gas by not running on Saturday and Sunday.”

There’s so little money in the transit budget that the city cannot apply for state and federal grants because it cannot make a match.

“The way we have been able to operate in the past is that we’ve had a balance in the transit fund,” Blake said. “Transit has been eating away at its fund balance. There’s nothing left.”

The city is proud that it provides a transit “service that exceeds that of any comparable city (in Colorado),” Blake said.

The city’s transit system provided a total 629,573 rides in 2012, which was a banner year in part because of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge event that took place in August.

Looking at the big picture, Blake does not know how to gauge the impact of cutting transit service.

“If (someone) cannot afford a transit pass and can’t get to work, then it affects the economy,” Blake said. “You pour water over here and the scale will tip somewhere else.”

On a small, human scale, Hebert said Buzz Bus driver Kelly Toliver never cared about money. She did not return a call for comment, but Blake said she would be offered a day shift.

Hebert will miss her.

“She’s just so caring, an amazing person,” Hebert said. “She will give you a ride if you don’t have money.”

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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