When City Manager Ron LeBlanc announced a proposal last month to stop weekend transit service, charge riders $1 to take the trolley and end the city’s Buzz Bus, residents and the Durango City Council did not take the matter lightly. Instead, the council and LeBlanc went back to the drawing board to consider alternatives. The results so far suggest that the changes will be less drastic than the original proposals, and that is a positive step. The council should keep working, though, to ensure that the city’s transit program remains robust.
At a Tuesday study session, councilors discussed the importance of keeping trolley service free as well as maintaining weekend transit operations. Doing so, as Councilor Sweetie Marbury rightly points out, ensures that those with limited transportation options – students and senior citizens – can get around easily and affordably.
“We’re hurting the most vulnerable,” Marbury said about a proposed $1 trolley fee.
She is correct: Charging for or cutting services to these populations is the wrong step for the city to take, and council is right to find a way to avoid that fate.
The favored plan to do so that emerged Tuesday is to hike parking-ticket fines. Currently at $9, the fine would increase to $12. While this is onerous to chronic parking scofflaws, it is a wholly avoidable charge – much like the proposed taxes on recreational marijuana. Those who do not wish to pay such a high fine do not have to; instead, they can make sure their meters do not expire or find parking in nonmetered spots.
Additionally, the city would increase its monthly parking fee from $20 to $30 for those who use city lots. That hike – 50 percent – is a bit more significant and potentially could have a deterrent effect, driving motorists from the lots and into neighborhoods – a result that would create auxiliary problems of its own. That fee increase should be refined before final budget approval time.
Finally, there is the matter of the Buzz Bus. As the service’s competitors pointed out at Tuesday’s session, the existence of a city-subsidized option for getting home after an evening of imbibing says much about a community – namely that it is invested in its residents’ safety and is committed to a full range of services that contribute to it.
Councilors discussed continuing Buzz Bus service on some high-volume nights such as Halloween and New Year’s Eve. That is a reprieve from the proposal to end the program altogether, but the need for safe rides home extends beyond those holiday evenings. The city should keep looking for options; there is a need – as determined by riders and Buzz Bus competitors alike – and the city is in a position to meet it.
On balance, though, the discussion at Tuesday’s session is a promising sign. The council is considering many programs and budget limitations and must balance a series of competing needs. The process is not simple, and the conversation must start somewhere. The initial transit-related proposals were not palatable to city residents or its elected officials, and a process to modify them followed. That is the policy process done well, and LeBlanc and the City Council are demonstrating appropriate engagement and responsiveness.