June 19, 2008

A big save: RTD postpones closure of U Route
By Pamela Lawson

Calling it democracy at work, RTD board members were moved June 17 by the pleas of 285 Corridor residents to keep the U Route operational from Pine to the Denver Tech Center.

The board voted to postpone the closure after local residents promised to work to boost ridership on the route.

“I generally don’t fall to compassion — I am about what is reasonable and right,” said board member Noel Busck. “This is reasonable and right.”

The Regional Transportation District, which faces rising fuel costs and falling sales tax revenue, would have saved $375,000 by scrapping the route Tuesday evening.

“We have fiduciary responsibilities to a $900 million public corporation,” said board member Dave Ruchman.

Ruchman further said that RTD staff had “applied the rules and services standards” when deciding to add the U Route to the list of cuts.

But June 17 was about changing the rules and “thinking outside the box” at the suggestion of citizens and other board members.

“It’s easy to make cuts, (but) we find there are consequences,” said board member Daryl Kinton. “We need to look at the big picture.”

That big picture involves citizen participation to save the U Route.

The 285 Coalition, a group of citizens who banded together last year to stave off RTD’s plans to close the Pine Junction park-n-Ride, stepped up again in earnest to save the U.

The group’s tactics involved more than objections about the loss of the U route — they included “participatory” strategies that caught the attention of the board.

The 285 Coalition plans to reach out to the community and encourage more ridership at upcoming public events. Its activist approach comes at a critical time when gas prices are on the rise and ridership for mass transit is increasing nationwide, members believe.

But the group also hopes to help RTD in other ways by researching funding sources and by seeking input from riders in surveys that will help RTD with scheduling.

The U Route landed on RTD’s slash list because the revenues generated by the route are substantially lower than operating costs. Figures for 2006, the latest data available from RTD, indicate that the U Route earned about $80,000 that year but cost more than $1 million to operate. Those statistics were compiled when the route had four trips per day. But trips were cut to two a day earlier this year.

The U Route is available at four different bus stops along the U.S. 285 Corridor: Pine Junction (at U.S. 285 and Mount Evans Boulevard); Mountain View (on U.S. 285 in Green Valley); Aspen Park, (near the Loaf-n-Jug); and Twin Forks (on U.S. 285 just north of the South Turkey Creek exit).

“If the U is to be effective, it needs to have an effective schedule,” said one rider who spoke during the public comment period Tuesday night.

“We are still trying to bounce back from cuts made in January,” said another rider.

Coalition members showed up wearing custom T-Shirts, and they presented one to board member Bruce Daly during the meeting. Daly represents the local district and spoke in support of their plan.

“There are positive efforts under way to increase ridership,” Daly said. But he also asked the community members to squelch talk that RTD doesn’t care about the 285 Corridor.

“That’s so far from the truth,” he said.

RTD general manager Cal Marsella led the board’s discussion to withdraw the U from the list of cuts.

The formal motion did not provide a specific timeframe to improve the route, but a four-month target was suggested. Board meetings are held quarterly, and the fate of the U will be readdressed at the next meeting.

Commissioner Kathy Hartman, who was unable to attend, asked the board for “cooperation and collaboration” in a letter she wrote that was read by 285 Coalition president Pam Beckhorn.

Park County Commissioner John Tighe also spoke about the need for mass transit in “rural Colorado.”

“Seventy-six percent of the people who live in Park County work outside of it,” he said.

Corridor resident Martin Wirth is being proactive about finding funding sources and lobbying strategies.

The board repeatedly praised the coalition for its industrious yet positive approach to saving the U, as well as the unusually large number of supporters who turned out at the June 17 meeting and a prior meeting in Conifer two weeks earlier.

When two board members questioned whether it was “fair” to stall the U cuts while other routes are on the table, other board members heartily challenged that logic.

“We can’t just paint them all with the same brush,” said board member Barbara Brohl. “This is one of those instances where there is really no viable alternatives.”

Now the burden falls to the community to save the U permanently.

The coalition’s first stop is Bailey Dayz, where members hope to raise awareness about mass transit and solicit new riders.

“Now the work begins,” Beckhorn said.

Contact staff writer Pamela Lawson at Pamela@evergreenco.com

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