The city of Durango is looking at doing away with the Buzz Bus, the late-night transportation service aimed at helping bar patrons get home safely. Citing budgetary pressures, city officials contend the service is unaffordable.
But the final decision is not slated to be made until December. That should be seen as a window of opportunity. The city and downtown bars and restaurants have two months to work something out.
The Buzz Bus operates Friday and Saturday nights from 10:30 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. But the city has a $500,000 shortfall in its ambitious transportation program, and the thinking is that it cannot afford to continue operating the Buzz Bus. Although there is a $5 fee for using the bus, the city says the revenue it generates does not cover the cost.
That might be worth looking into. After all, the Buzz Bus is more than just a convenience for partiers.
Part of the idea is to keep people who have been drinking from getting behind the wheel of a car. On that level, it benefits other motorists and anyone else out and about at that time.
More than that, it also represents something of a subsidy for downtown bars and restaurants. By making customers comfortable with the knowledge that they can get home safely and legally, it effectively encourages people to go out.
It also works for those working downtown on those nights. That is especially true for those whose shift starts early enough that they have to worry about parking.
Beyond stopping the Buzz Bus, the city also is planning to eliminate some weekend transit service, double the cost of monthly passes and charge $1 for riding the trolley. City officials say overall costs have risen while ridership has stayed flat.
Together with the different parties that gain from having the Buzz Bus, that suggests some possible approaches. For starters, cutting the Buzz Bus will not fix the city’s half-million-dollar problem. Ending that one service would save only $32,409 – not a lot of money in municipal terms.
Given last year’s total of 3,882 people who used the Buzz Bus, that saving is about $8 per rider. And that suggests two approaches: Get more people to ride the bus, and find some more money.
Both of those might depend on how much users of the Buzz Bus appreciate the service – and how much downtown bars and restaurants like it.
For riders of the bus, paying an extra dollar or two should be an easy calculation. Even for a first-time offender, one arrest for drunken driving would buy countless bus rides. And getting busted is far from the worst thing that can result from drinking and driving.
Perhaps the biggest gain could come from the industry. Just by promoting use of the Buzz Bus more energetically, the owners of downtown bars and restaurants could help boost ridership and help defer the cost.
If they also worked out a way to chip in, they probably could underwrite the Buzz Bus fairly painlessly. There are at least two dozen establishments in downtown Durango that serve alcohol. Together, covering the cost of the bus would amount to nothing more than pennies per drink.
Would that be a city tax, a special district, a self-assessed fee or simply another dime or quarter per drink on nights the bus runs? It could be any of those. The mechanism is not important.
What matters is that the city has been providing a valuable service, one that combines convenience with enhancing public safety. That is the kind of program we should not only keep but expand.