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White: Transit changes and aspirations

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Friday, Dec. 22, 2017 4:24 PM
Mayor Dick White

As we look beyond the holiday season to the New Year, the city of Durango plans a significant operational change for Durango Transit, beginning April 1.

Public transportation systems across the nation depend on subsidies because fare revenues fall far short of providing sufficient funds for operations and raising fares disproportionately impacts low-income transit-dependent riders.

In Durango, the subsidies have mostly come from an annual federal transit operations grant and from parking revenues. Even with somewhat enhanced revenues from parking tickets in 2017, however, financing from the Transportation Services Fund (which must be self-supporting) was just marginally sufficient, without a surplus that might grow to meet future parking needs.

Starting in 2018, the Colorado Department of Transportation will systematically reduce Durango’s share of the annual federal operating grant that passes through the state. By 2023, those reductions will total more than $600,000. Rather than limp along through smaller short-term cuts before the cliff in the final year, staff recommended, and the city council has accepted, significant alteration of transit operations in 2018.

The specific changes incorporate public input garnered since early October: from online and bilingual onboard ridership surveys; targeted meetings with scores of stakeholder organizations; an open house; and media outreach. The process included careful review of ridership data, as well as identification of the most heavily used transit stops.

These data show that three routes (Main Avenue Trolley, Fort Lewis College and Wal-Mart) account for nearly 85 percent of ridership. Restricting operations to these three routes, but with modifications to serve additional locations – specifically including Tamarin Square and Island Cove – will save nearly $1 million each year. Moreover, all routes will operate every day on uniform fixed schedules from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., with 20 minute headways on Main Avenue and 30 minutes on the other two routes.

Other important elements of the revised operations are the following. The Opportunity Bus, on-call to serve seniors and disabled residents, will continue operations as before. Subject to completion of a Memorandum of Understanding, Road Runner will provide scheduled service to Mercy/Three Springs, with free transfers available between the two transit services.

In recognition that the rush from Florida Road up North College Drive to 8 a.m. weekday classes at FLC results in system’s most intense passenger traffic, the city will run a special express bus once per day to serve this population. (Because the bus and driver will provide Opportunity Bus service during the rest of the day, the incremental cost will be minimal.)

Finally, because Durango Transit will no longer serve U.S. 160 West, the city has offered to sell now surplus buses to Animas High School and to La Plata County Human Services. Negotiations with the high school are underway.

The city’s Multimodal Transportation Plan still aspires to a system that enables a middle school-aged child to safely and conveniently access transit and bike or walk independently throughout Durango and its environs. The new route structure will not fulfill this goal. Consequently, a funding stream for maintenance and expansion of transit operations will be one of numerous topics for civic discussion and prioritization in 2018.

An effective transit system addresses multiple sustainability goals for the city of Durango. Most obviously, it enables residents to get around without driving – as does the Animas River Trail – reducing congestion, freeing up parking spaces and saving fuel and associated greenhouse gas emissions. It also provides an essential service for low-income residents who lack the resources to own and maintain their own vehicles, but still need conveyance to jobs and life-support services.

Expanded service hours and days will further enable more households to avoid owning multiple vehicles, or even any vehicle, especially when proposed higher density housing develops, as projected along North Main (Uptown) and Camino del Rio. This will be an economic bonus for households, a benefit that partly will translate into additional local spending, especially in the downtown and the redeveloping mixed-use character districts (e.g., Uptown, Camino and College Drive/Eighth Avenue).

Walkable neighborhoods, such as those Durango already enjoys, enhance quality of life for residents and support economic vitality.

The altered structure of Durango Transit, even with fewer routes, will facilitate expansion of such neighborhoods in the city. With citizen support, further changes can fulfill the aspiration of extending critical transit services to every neighborhood.

Please participate in the 2018 citizen discussion around this and other city goals.

Before then, however, enjoy a holiday season blessed with good cheer and warm relationships.

Dick White is the mayor of Durango, a position rotating among members of City Council. He was re-elected to City Council in 2015 and will serve as mayor until April 2018, when he will be succeeded by now-Mayor Pro Tem Sweetie Marbury. Reach him at DickWhite@DurangoGov.org.

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