Improving the Colorado Springs transit system is a big undertaking, but the Future of Regional Transit Steering Committee has been hard at work doing just that. Funded by a federal transportation planning grant, the committee has until February to provide a recommendation for improvements.
The committee has been meeting monthly to discuss transit visions, governance, funding and bringing or increasing service to outlying areas such as Monument, Fountain, Falcon and Woodland Park.
The economic downturn has shown just how precarious the transit system is. Recently, Colorado Springs found itself in the position of cutting transit system service by almost 50 percent when sales tax revenue dropped.
As one member of the committee said, “You don’t fund vital services with sales tax. Colorado Springs funds its police, fire department and transit system with sales tax and that makes these essential services vulnerable.”
At the Dec. 3 Steering Committee meeting at the Monument Town Hall, members looked at a variety of governance options — leaving Colorado Springs in charge, moving transit into the hands of El Paso County, making it a division of the Pikes Peak Regional Transit Authority or the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments or creating an entirely new regional transit or service authority.
Members discussed the pros and cons of each of the options. Most agreed that leaving it with the city isn’t working and several leaned toward El Paso County or the PPRTA, with the possibility of eventually making it independent of either.
As for funding, raising fares is not a viable option. Susanne Whited, who serves on the Passenger Advisory Committee said fares are already twice as much as fares charged by most other transit systems in cities of comparable size and they get less service in return.
The PPRTA collects a 1 percent sales tax, the cap set by state law for regional transit authorities. Of that only about 10 percent goes to transit. The rest is split between new road construction and maintenance.
RTAs are also allowed, with voter approval, to collect up to 5 mills of property tax, up to a 2 percent visitor benefit tax and to charge an annual motor vehicle registration fee of no more than $10 per vehicle.
If the PPRTA received approval for all of these options and kept transit spending at 10 percent, it would have just enough money to bring transit back up to 2008 levels.
“Just getting us back to where we were would be a start,” Whited said.
A start isn’t good enough for most committee members, however. Colorado Springs City Councilmember Jan Martin said the committee is supposed to be looking at the future of transit not just what has been.
“Are we here to talk about basic service that could be cut again or are we here to talk about the bigger vision?” she asked, pointing out that if they go with the PPRTA option, that won’t happen.
Brian Wess, who serves on the El Paso County Higway Commission said, “PPRTA was supposed to enhance what was already here. We won’t be able to sell a bare bones transit system.”
Whatever their recommendation, all agreed that it will be the voters who will actually decide.
“We need to show even the non-transit users the benefits of having a good transit system,” Martin said.
Among the benefits listed at www.futureofregionaltransit.com are the reduction of traffic congestion, providing mobility to the transit-dependent population, providing access to jobs, improving air quality, economic development and growth and helping create more walkable communities.
For more information about transit, where it stands now and where it needs to be, visit the Future of Regional Transportation website. To see what the PPRTA has accomplished since it was approved by voters, visit www.pprta.com. For other transportation information, visit www.ppacg.org.
Next month’s public Steering Committee meeting will be in Falcon.