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Gazette Premium Content Coalition wants more bus routes in Colorado Springs

3 photos photo - Passengers head onto a bus at the Kiowa Street Parking Garage Friday, June 6 2014. A coalition is forming to improve bus service across the city by restoring service to what it was before the 2010 recession cuts. Photo by Julia Moss, The Gazette + caption
Passengers head onto a bus at the Kiowa Street Parking Garage Friday, June 6 2014. A coalition is forming to improve bus service across the city by restoring service to what it was before the 2010 recession cuts. Photo by Julia Moss, The Gazette
By Jakob Rodgers Published: June 8, 2014

A new coalition aims to push Colorado Springs officials into restoring a transit system hit hard by budget cuts.

The grass-roots effort, called the Community Transit Coalition, recently formed amid concerns over Mayor Steve Bach's transit budget.

Its short-term goal: Incrementally restore bus routes beginning Jan. 1 while asking the city to commit to a $1.8 million increase in transit funding in coming years. Supporters plan to begin seeking public help prioritizing possible new routes at a meeting Tuesday.

Should the effort fail, the coalition may attempt to launch a ballot measure to pay for a new taxing authority to support public transportation - a system that would mimic the region's library system.

"To some extent, there just hasn't been a community voice for transit expansion," said coalition member Courtney Stone, community organizing manager for The Independence Center, a nonprofit offering disability services.

Despite a slow, incremental increase in routes and hours, transit services in the region remain anemic and poorly funded, advocates say.

The city budgeted 100,000 fewer fixed-route service hours this year than in 2008, when it logged 220,399 hours, according to Mountain Metropolitan Transit. Twenty-two routes remain of a system that boasted 40 bus lines in 2007, snaking as far east as Falcon and Schriever Air Force Base.

The most drastic cuts came in 2010, when 73 people lost their jobs while the city axed weekend and evening service, along with routes to Fort Carson and Schriever Air Force Base.

That year, Colorado Springs' transit budget fell to $2.3 million, a 68 percent drop from the previous year.

City funding that year fell below a $5.7 million benchmark that city officials agreed to pay annually as part of the Pikes Peak Regional Transit Authority. The authority was created via a 1 percent sales tax increase, and the baseline was meant to ensure that tax money would replace existing transportation and transit budgets.

El Paso County, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls also agreed to similar baseline allocations, but only Colorado Springs has dipped below its baseline funding level. It has remained at least $1.8 million beneath that mark every year since, prompting PPRTA board members to say the city is not abiding to its commitments.

In March, Bach called the baseline funding agreement "aspirational and nonbinding," though PPRTA members feel otherwise.

Stone said the new group will work with a long-term focus - seeking incremental transit improvements.

She hailed efforts to reinstate service in recent years, including limited weekend and evening hours, as well as some service to Powers Boulevard.

"We're always very happy that there are expansions," Stone said. "But it doesn't negate the fact that somebody kind of needs to be coming forward and making sure it's really more of a priority."

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