The Front Range Express, which shuttled passengers between Colorado Springs and Denver on luxurious buses, may be back by late 2014.
"This is imminent. It's not pie in the sky. We are down to dotting the i's and crossing the t's," said Les Gruen, the Colorado Transportation Commission's Colorado Springs representative.
Craig Blewitt, director of Mountain Metropolitan Transit, wrote in an email he's hopeful the service will operate as early as October 2014.
"The commuter bus service will have three segments: Colorado Springs to Denver, Fort Collins to Denver, and an I-70 segment connecting mountain resort towns to Denver," Blewitt wrote. "The Colo Springs to Denver segment restores FREX. The other two segments are totally new."
The bus service would be funded by FASTER, a bipartisan transportation funding law enacted by the Legislature and former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter in 2009. It increased transportation revenue with a $2 daily car-rental fee and a new weight-based vehicle registration system.
The proposed buses will be larger than the previous FREX buses, which were not small, and will contain restrooms.
The CDOT proposal for restoration of service, which must be approved by the Transportation Commission, came after CDOT hired a consultant to study demand.
The old FREX service was of extraordinary value to professionals who commuted between Denver and the Springs. The average household income of regular FREX riders was $72,000.
Even though Denver and other communities benefited from the service, it was disproportionately subsidized by Colorado Springs. Although City Council tried to keep the service functioning, Mayor Steve Bach refused to sign a contract because he wanted the money for better bus service within the city limits. Politically, it made no sense to subsidize high-wage professionals at the expense of more than 4,000 Social Security recipients and low-income residents who needed more bus service in town.
Still, the loss of FREX probably made Colorado Springs a less appealing residential and business location among those who want easy and affordable transportation to and from Denver. It just makes good sense to link the state's two largest cities with routine bus service.
Like most cities, Colorado Springs wants more jobs for young, highly educated professionals. Regular shuttles to and from Denver - a city that can attract professionals from the likes of Chicago, New York and San Francisco - make Colorado Springs a more attractive option. One can live and work in the Springs, enjoying majestic views and seemingly endless outdoor recreational opportunities, and get cosmopolitan amenities by merely boarding a bus for a short ride up I-25.
For Springs-Denver work commuters, the bus provides an hour each way to work on laptopd or tablets - something they cannot do while driving cars.
Extending the service to Fort Collins only stands to make it more useful to people all along the proposed route.
The old FREX was a fantastic service with a nonsustainable and unfair means of financial support that burdened Colorado Springs. What CDOT proposes - a state-funded service along a corridor of millions of Colorado residents - makes good sense. By all means, use FASTER proceeds to restore Front Range bus service as soon as possible.