Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content City Council hears about inadequacy of public transportation system

DEBBIE KELLEY Updated: May 23, 2011 at 12:00 am

New Colorado Springs City Council members got a first look at the findings of a nearly one-year study of public transportation in the region, with several expressing concern  about the state of the system.

The city has slashed service hours and routes by nearly half since 2008 due to budget cuts and decreased sales tax revenue.
Council member Tim Leigh said at Monday’s informal meeting that he relied on local public transportation recently when he broke a leg and talked with passengers.

“I was a real Doubting Thomas, until I ran into guys who it takes 2.5 hours to get to work, then they work a shift, and it takes 2.5 hours for them to get home,” he said. “I’ll be a supporter (for change).”

But whether council members are ready to give up oversight and control of the area’s only bus system will be a decision for down the road. The previous City Council requested the transportation study in April 2010.

The 23-member Future of Regional Transit Steering Committee decided to wait to present it after the current council was sworn in last month.

Craig Blewitt, interim transit division manager, said in six to eight weeks, the committee will ask council members to appoint an “implementation task force” to carry out the recommendations of the study group: Change the current governance and funding structure.

That could lead to City Council abdicating its decision-making role over public transit. The committee is calling for city leaders to hand over the region’s only fixed-route bus service, along with paratransit services for the disabled and commuter routes to Denver and Woodland Park, to the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. The committee also wants a new task force to seek more stable, permanent funding and is pushing for a ballot measure to ask voters to allocate a bigger piece of the sales and use tax pie, or add new taxes or fees for increased public support.

City funding for public transportation decreased from $11.9 million in 2008 to $3.1 million this year, Blewitt said.

That has left the system woefully inadequate for those who rely on public transportation to get to work and access basic needs, the committee determined, said Marc Snyder, chairman of the steering committee and mayor of Manitou Springs.

The system also receives one-tenth of the one-percent PPRTA sales and use tax that voters approved in 2004. This year’s allocation will be about $6.3 million, Blewitt said.

The 55 percent capital portion of the PPRTA tax expires in 2014, but the PPRTA board has said it is considering bringing a measure to voters next year to approve continuing the tax. Snyder said one option would be to ask the electorate to change the division of the tax revenue and give public transportation a larger share and reduce the capital portion.

The PPRTA board hasn’t signed off on any idea and will be briefed by lawyers in an executive session at its June 8 meeting whether it could legally assume responsibility for the public transportation system, Snyder said.

Study results are posted at www.FutureOfRegionalTransit.com.

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