Disabled fear being left stranded if city guts bus service

September 24, 2009
photo - The Gazette, Bryan Oller     Photo by staff photographer
The Gazette, Bryan Oller Photo by staff photographer 

Last spring, when the city announced it was trimming bus lines to save money, Barbara Barker knew she had suffered another setback in her 30-year battle against multiple sclerosis.

With her usual bus line cancelled, the 64-year-old, who uses a wheelchair, had no way to get to her neurologist. She ended up switching to a new doctor.

Barker worries what she’ll have to sacrifice next if the city follows through on plans to deepen cuts to public transportation, essentially trimming busing hours by half to help bridge an estimated $25.4 million budget shortfall.

“It’s embarrassing that the city brags on its quality of life, and doesn’t even have a sustainable bus system,” she said.

More than 150 people turned out Wednesday for a community rally to turn back proposed cuts to the city’s public transportation services. The group — many with disabilities that make driving difficult or impossible — echoed Barker’s concerns that the city is balancing its budget at the expense of the poor, the elderly and the disabled.

Members of Environment Colorado, the Colorado Public Interest Research Group and the Green Cities Coalition of the Pikes Peak Region touted a report showing a growing demand nationwide for public transit despite at the same time that funding is being cut.

Colorado Springs logged a record 3.8 million one-way trips last year.

Among the bus riders in attendance was Vinay Mutha, who suffers from diabetes and a condition called orthostatic hypotension, which causes him to feel faint when he stands. He said many in the community could make do with a cut to hours, but that eliminating bus routes altogether would lead to hardships, particularly for those who rely on busing to get to jobs or doctors’ offices.

“I’m always willing to wait two to three hours, I don’t mind,” he said. “But when I need to see a doctor …”

Mutha said that people who ride public transportation are easy targets because they lack a strong political voice.

Any cuts eliminating bus routes will also trim paratransit services for the disabled.  Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the city must provide paratransit services that roughly correspond with each bus route.  If a bus route is eliminated, then the city will no longer be required to run shuttles to and from disabled residents who live near the cancelled bus route.

Becky McCain, a case manager with Goodwill Industries, said paratransit plays a vital role in job and education programs for the disabled. Without it, many will be left without a social network, she said.

Some attendees lashed out at TABOR, a spending limitation that many blame for the city’s professed fiscal straits.

Colorado Springs City Councilman Bernie Herpin directed fire at Douglas Bruce, the architect of the state constitutional amendment. “For some reason, Doug Bruce decided to leave California and come to Colorado Springs — not Longmont, or Loveland, or Tucson — and we’re stuck with him,” Herpin said.

Bruce was not in attendance.

Later, Herpin called himself a “fiscal conservative” who nonetheless supports Initiative 2C, a proposed tax increase that city officials say will preserve bus services at the current level.

A city-sponsored town hall is scheduled for Oct. 22 at City Hall and will focus in part on the proposed changes to public transportation.

Thursday’s forum was sponsored by the Colorado Springs Independence Center and the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition.


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