Orange could be the new black for Durango’s transit.
The orange-colored envelopes tacked onto the windshields of cars at expired parking meters might be the solution to getting the city’s transit system into the black.
Parking fines would go up from $9 to $12 next year to help overcome a funding gap in the city’s transit budget.
Monthly fees for parking in city lots and transit passes also would increase from $20 to $30.
After considering a “Chinese menu” array of different funding options, the City Council on Tuesday selected these fine and fee increases as a way to preserve free trolley rides from north Main to the downtown and keep transit services on the weekend.
Cutting free trolley service was a no-go for Councilor Sweetie Marbury, who said it would negatively affect senior citizens, high school students and the tourists who have come to depend on the trolley to get downtown.
“We’re hurting the most vulnerable,” said Marbury in protest to a proposal to charge $1 for the trolley.
Councilors haggled over funding options during a study session Tuesday night. The chosen funding solutions are tentative because the council will not adopt the 2014 budget until December. A public hearing about the 2014 budget is scheduled for the Nov. 5 regular meeting of the council.
Less clear is the fate of the Buzz Bus, which provides bar patrons with rides home from the downtown on Friday and Saturday nights.
City officials expressed interest in keeping the Buzz Bus on special nights, such as Halloween, New Year’s Eve and Snowdown parade night but not to run it every Friday and Saturday as it does now.
Bars and restaurants also could be asked to help pay for the Buzz Bus on those busy nights.
“It’s good PR for bars and restaurants to help their patrons get home,” City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.
The Buzz Bus also would be taken out of the transit budget and treated as a community service.
City staffers and the council had looked to private industry as a solution to safely getting the inebriated home.
After councilors Christina Rinderle and Dean Brookie said city transit should not be competing for business with privately owned taxis and limos, the Buzz Bus got an unexpected boost from the owners of Animas Transportation and Buck Horn Limousine, while Durango Taxi was neutral.
“I would like to see the Buzz Bus stay,” said John Nadolny of Animas Transportation. “It says a lot about what kind of town you are.”
David Galus, owner of Buck Horn, also argued that the Buzz Bus would still be needed at peak times such as Halloween.
Because the limos act on a call-ahead reservation basis, there is the persistent problem of so many people waiting until the last minute to call for service, usually after last call for drinks at 1:30 a.m.
Because bars close at 2 a.m., many people often are stranded with no place to go, resorting to Denny’s Restaurant and No Way Jose’s Mexican restaurant.
Those who do call ahead with a reservation often wander off from their appointed pickup place.
Galus said Buck Horn Limousine wastes a lot of time “chasing” after people.
In other budget news related to city transportation, the council approved spending $2.5 million on capital improvements for streets, which compares with spending just about $1 million a year on streets during the recession years.
The city will spend more than $5 million on streets next year when all the regular maintenance and other costs are added.
Councilors were receptive when LeBlanc made his case for hiring an extra assistant next year and possibly two interns, saying his office is understaffed when compared with cities of comparable size and La Plata County government.