Several Durango residents were pleased to learn Wednesday night that door-to-door city bus service for those with disabilities will be preserved.
“I couldn’t do anything without the opportunity bus or the trolley,” said Vincent LaDue, who uses a wheelchair.
City officials held a meeting Wednesday to discuss with residents the cuts they anticipate they will have to make because of budget shortfalls.
Mollie Hanson, who is learning to use the city bus system, came prepared with a written statement to defend the door-to door service known as the Opportunity Bus.
“Some people cannot get to the bus stops or understand how to use them and they need to go door to door,” she wrote.
The door-to-door service is a federal requirement of operating a fixed-route bus service, and the hours of the paratransit service have to mirror the regular bus service, said Sarah Dodson, assistant transportation director.
“We have made a commitment to leave that untouched,” she said.
The city needs to cut the transit operating budget by about half – or $1.5 million – to be sustainable in the long-term, Assistant City Manager Amber Blake said.
The bus service changes must be made, in part because the Colorado Department of Transportation is revising how it grants money to transit agencies, which will result in five years of funding cuts for Durango.
City estimates show grant funding will fall from $826,300 in 2017 to $299,000 in 2023. Before CDOT cut grant funding, the city already faced regular shortfalls, even after it made changes in recent years to increase revenue.
Most recently, parking ticket fines increased from $12 to $25.
Instead of making cuts each year, the city is going to make the changes all at once to make sure the service is on a solid foundation, Blake said. Then the community can start a plan to rebuild the system.
“The community’s vision is for transit service to expand,” she said in an interview on Tuesday.
The multimodal master planning process found that the community would like more frequent service, longer hours and other forms of expansion.
Before rolling out the cuts in April, staff members will determine how changes might hurt riders.
About 70 percent of the riders depend on Durango Transit services, and 25 percent of them are Fort Lewis College students.
The most popular bus routes serve Main Avenue, Fort Lewis College and Walmart. Main Avenue is served by the trolley. Between January and June this year, it provided 91,729 trips. The Fort Lewis College bus provided 55,035 trips during the same period, and the Walmart bus provided 46,705 trips.
City staff plan to meet with Fort Lewis College students this week to discuss changes to the service, Dodson said.
Fort Lewis College students pay for a transit pass as part of their student fees. The contract is negotiated between the city and Fort Lewis College student government.
“They have been really on top of getting their constituency represented,” Dodson said.
The city also will hold stakeholder meetings with organizations that work in health and human services, education, business and transportation.
The Durango City Council will discuss the budget cuts in December.