Trimmed transit seeks volunteers, new ideas

       Mountain Metro public transit users, even those on the Westside's popular Route 3 down Colorado/ Manitou Avenue, are facing ridership challenges in 2010.

An eastbound Route 3 bus pulls away from the stop at 28th Avenue this week. Although it's one of the city's busiest routes, it too has lost weekend and weeknight service in 2010 because of funding issues.
Westside Pioneer photo

       On that route, as on all others in town, a loss of $6 million in city funding means there are now no buses on weeknights nor on Saturdays and Sundays. This has the simultaneous effect of reducing the curb-to-curb service for disabled riders (called Metro Mobility) - because that's only available as a branch from working bus routes.
       In all, about 10,000 trips a week have been lost, according to David Menter, transit planning supervisor for Mountain Metro. He summed up the situation: “People are scrambling.”
       But wheels are turning to find solutions. Local officials are seeking to expand ride alternatives and recruit volunteer drivers while coming up with a new model for public transit.
       People needing rides can call Lori McGinnis, the transportation case manager at the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG), at 471-7080 x108. She said she will try to match people with drivers or carpools matching their needed times and areas.
       But she can make no promises. For instance, one of the most popular alternatives is the vanpools (25 in all) which the Metro Rides program organizes in keeping with its goal of reducing congestion and improving air quality by encouraging alternatives to single-occupancy vehicle use. “Unfortunately,” according to its supervisor, Brian Grim, the program currently has a waiting list.
       To fill ridership gaps, at least for the interim, local officials are appealing to citizens. “We'd like to tap into the volunteer spirit of the community,” said Lisa Thomas, PPACG mobility manager. “People voted down 2C, which is true democracy, but now what are we going to do? So we're turning back to the community, because there is a need.”
       People can also call McGinnis if they would like to be volunteer drivers. “It's getting busier and busier every day,” she said. “It's hard, and hopefully we'll be able to see some of our community step forward to help these people.”
       But how much of a difference that might make is hard to say. Mountain Metro is part of city government, funded through the city and Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA). With reduced income from both those sources, Mountain Metro has only two-thirds of the budget it had two years ago, according to Menter.
       Local officials are hoping to work out a new strategy that will work in the long term. “Because it's a fairly unstable situation, we will be launching a community-wide effort to talk about what should the region be spending on transit, what a stable funding source might look like and what mix of services would keep us competitive,” Menter said. Mountain Metro has a grant to hire a consultant, and a request for proposals [from prospective consultants] is being put together. “We should know more in late January or early February,” he added.
       One idea is for a regional transportation district that would have its own taxing powers (like the RTD in Denver). Any such proposal is still in the preliminary stages. However, Thomas said, “it's easier to manage transit when it has its own district.”
       Also working on long-term transit solutions is a citizen environmentalist organization called the Green Cities Coalition, which would like “to create a multi-modal transportation system that would allow people to get out of their cars,” according to its website. The coalition's transportation working group holds meetings the first and third Tuesday of the month from 6 to 8 p.m. in the City Hall Academy Room.

Westside Pioneer article