June 12, 2008

Corridor residents protest RTD bus route closure
By Pamela Lawson

Bus riders in the corridor turned out in mass June 4 to challenge RTD’s plan to discontinue a bus route from Pine Junction to the Denver Tech Center.

More than 70 residents filled a room at the Conifer Library to tell an RTD representative that it should not be slashing bus routes when gas prices are rising.

Visitors challenged the agency to consider alternative options, even raising rates if necessary. They offered a variety of suggestions to save the local U route by turning it into an express route or redirecting segments of it, down the hill.

Riders argued that using the C routes, available on the corridor, would add considerable travel time to their commute and it would be impossible for some riders to adjust to.

“A lot of people in this community depend on it,” one visitor said of the U route. “They can’t take another bus.”

Bruce Beckhorn suggested a 1- or 2-year moratorium before the closure to explore all possible solutions.

“Don’t panic,” he said.

Robert Rynerson, senior service planner for RTD who spoke at the meeting, said RTD staff analyzed both sides of the issue for a considerable time before making the decision, he said. Staff must consider two standards: ridership and cost subsidy per ride, he said.

Figures for 2006, the latest data available, indicates that the U route earned about $80,000 that year but cost more than $1 million to operate requiring a subsidy of $970,000.

Those figures reflect four trips (to and from) per day that were once available on the U route. But a fourth was discontinued in late 2006. The subsidy money needed to operate the U now, with three trips a day, is roughly half that cost, Rynerson said, but still well above the money earned. And subsidies are evaporating, he said.

But attendees at the June 4 meeting argued that people should come first and that alternative funding should be found through other sources.

The route has been in existence since 1992. Last year’s average rides were about 18.

By comparison the C line that serves routes CS/CV/CX from Pine Junction and Aspen Park averages about 37.

RTD is being forced to take a look at all low-performing routes due to the rising cost of diesel fuel, he said.

Riders at the Conifer meeting challenged that the number of riders will rise as fuel costs do. They cited other mass transit authorities around the country that are now addressing that reality. But Ryerson believes his agency is also addressing those concerns.

The riders challenged that better time slots would have earned more riders on the U. But Ryerson said RTD experimented with a later timeslot for four years. As a result, ridership was spread between four buses, which incurred more costs but did not produce better numbers.

Some in attendance challenged that the closure is another “calculated attack” on the U.S. 285 Corridor.

Last year RTD announced plans to close the Pine Junction park-n-Ride, but citizens earnestly objected and stopped that plan.

Rynerson claims there is no conspiracy. He said RTD has spent considerable money in the corridor, creating several park-n-Rides along U.S. 285 and it purchased land to build a more permanent site in Pine Junction before budget cuts halted that plan. In addition, the C route is successful, he said.

Corridor resident Martin Wirth asked that RTD improve its communication with citizens by publishing fuel-usage data. He asked if the agency was exploring ways to form a consortium with other public transportation districts to reduce fuel costs. He also asked for more information on steps the agency is taking regarding the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles and ways that federal funding formulas might be changed to gain additional funding for routes.

According to Ryerson, RTD has some fuel-efficient buses for city routes, but they do not perform well in the mountain terrain, he said.

The meeting was one of many being held along the Front Range last week. When RTD makes changes to routes they host meetings to consider citizen input before finalizing those decisions.

And sometimes those meetings produce results.

Last week, citizens who argued to preserve the light rail G line reaped a measure of success. Some of the stops will be preserved to serve as a backup to the more used H line, according to Rynerson.

But, the brainstorming session with 285 Corridor residents in Conifer did not net the same outcome.

Ryerson attended about half a dozen similar meetings for riders in the West Denver area and he said the Conifer meeting had the highest number of attendees.

The RTD board will make the final ruling on whether the U route will close. A local citizen’s coalition is planning to attend an upcoming board meeting June 17 as one more effort to stop it from being terminated.

Contact staff writer Pamela Lawson at Pamela@evergreenco.com

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