Seventy-three transit workers for the city of Colorado Springs were told Thursday that they will lose their jobs Dec. 31, as the city’s bus system girds for massive cuts in service in 2010.

The employees given their pink slips work for bus operator First Transit, which is contracted by the city to operate its Mountain Metropolitan Transit, said Ryan Hiatt, general manager of Mountain Metropolitan South.

First Transit executes two separate contracts for the city — one contract (the “south garage”) is funded by city general fund money, the other contract (the “north garage”) gets its money from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.

The south garage is being completely shut down, “from the bus washers all the way down to me,” Hiatt said. The north garage can cover the same routes, but it can’t compensate for the lost hours.

The layoffs come in the wake of the defeat of ballot Measure 2c, which would have raised property taxes to buttress city services hit hard by declining sales tax revenue. The City Council is grappling with ways to cover about a $30 million shortfall in its 2010 budget.

It wasn’t the only bad news delivered Thursday. Transit officials held three meetings in the city to tell riders they can expect a bare-bones bus service next year because of the budget cuts.

Unless the council changes its mind in upcoming budget meetings — “unlikely,” said one transit official —Mountain Metro beginning Jan. 1 will eliminate all night and weekend bus service; end the popular FREX commuter bus service to Denver; cease running buses to Fort Carson; and eliminate all express bus routes to Schriever Air Force Base.

All told, the bus system is expected to operate 104,000 hours of fixed-route bus service in 2010, down from 220,000 hours in 2008, when the system recorded its highest ridership ever.

The city slashed its funding from $8.7 million to $2.6 million, said city transit services manager Sherre Ritenour, leaving only enough to cover insurance, pension funds and facilities management.

Bus service next year essentially will be funded by the one-percent sales tax that funds the rural transportation authority. Transit gets one-tenth of that revenue.

 “Devastating cuts to city services are being made,” Ritenour said. “The loss of bus service is going to impact people’s lives. We have 11,000 rides a day — people will lose service to their doctors, to grocery stores, to work.”
“We’ve done the very best job we can with providing the hours that provide the most service to the most people. But this is the third round of cuts. There’s no way now to avoid cutting off limbs.”