June 18, 2012
FREX is finally finished.
Despite a City Council vote last week to keep the FrontRange Express in operation at least through the end of the year, Mayor Steve Bach decided not to extend an intergovernmental agreement to keep the commuter bus service between Colorado Springs and Denver running, according to an email obtained Monday by The Gazette.
FREX will come to a screeching halt Aug. 31.
“We respectfully considered your role in extending the IGA with a 6 to 3 vote, but also recognize it is the Mayor’s authority and responsibility to execute all operational contracts to ensure sound financial decisions on behalf of our City,” Chief of Staff Laura Neumann said in an email to council members.
“You should know after careful analysis the financial impact to extend FREX service was (about $425,000) for four months,” she said
Neumann said the city approached the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority for potential financial support after last week’s vote, but it “was not an option.”
Last week, Neumann said funding options to continue FREX would be discussed, and the chances of ending the service this year were “very minimal.”
But earlier on Monday, Neumann hinted that FREX was on its last breath.
Neumann provided demographic data showing that about 4,000 Colorado Springs residents use local bus service daily while FREX has only about 200 daily riders during the work week. She noted that FREX includes riders from Monument and Denver.
The city of Colorado Springs, through funding from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, picks up the lion’s share of the costs.
“The average annual household income (of FREX riders in 2010) was $72,000,” Neumann said in an email.
“By contrast, two-thirds of our fixed-route bus riders have annual household incomes less than $20,000/year and 51 percent have annual household incomes less than $15,000,” she wrote.
“This should tell you which way we might be leaning with our recommendation,” Neumann added.
Councilman Bernie Herpin expressed disappointment with the news.
“It's unfortunate that we led people to believe that FREX would continue at least until the end of the year since it is fully funded and the Chief of Staff stated they would ‘honor’ council's desire,” he said in an email.
Still, Herpin acknowledged that Bach, who is the city's first strong mayor, had the power to opt out of the contract.
“I understand this is in the Mayor's unilateral authority and purview,” he said.
The Bach administration had recommended ending FREX, which has been on the chopping block several times before, but a council majority wanted to keep the service going.
Before last week's vote, council President Scott Hente said the decision was hard but that he had made a lot of hard decisions during his nine years on council.
“It seems like they’ve always been the wrong (decisions) because we’ve always been cutting,” Hente said.
“On a per capita basis, we’ve actually cut police and fire. We’ve cut maintenance for streets. We’ve cut maintenance for stormwater facilities. We’ve gotten rid of hundreds of city employees, which means less services that we can offer to our community. We’ve decimated, to a large extent, our parks budget,” Hente said. “I guess at some point, I just to say from a personal standpoint, enough is enough. I guess I’m tired of cutting stuff. I’m tired of reducing services to the community.”