Our view: Consistent bus service matters | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Consistent bus service matters

We can empathize with the task Steamboat Springs government and City Council face in balancing the 2018 budget in the face of declining sales tax revenues. But, we would think that something the city has learned in the past few years is that cutting transit service, even temporarily, inspires significant blowback from the community.

City Council reviewed a proposal this week to trim about $45,000 from the 2018 budget by curtailing bus service April 15 to May 26. Under the plan, the last city bus would leave the Stock Bridge Transit Center for the mountain area at 6:40 p.m. instead of 10:40 p.m. during mud season.

Transit Manager Jonathan Flint said the night-line buses transport an average of 19 riders per hour during the four hours of service that would go away, and he added that's not too far below the state average of 22 to 23 riders per hour. He predicts the planned cuts to the late night service would affect 12,000 passenger trips.

Maybe City Council should revisit its 2017 Community Survey Report that ranks bus service ahead of city recreation facilities. Twenty-nine percent of survey respondents deemed bus service essential, and another 45 percent agreed that it was "very important," for a combined score of 75 percent.

That ranks transit services ahead of city recreation facilities, financial support of nonprofit organizations, street lighting and animal control.

Something we've learned in recent years is that for residents who rely on the SST to get them to and from work, temporary disruptions in bus service are a major irritant.

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Past city councils have had to backtrack and make adjustments in mid-season to restore bus routes and service.

In advance of the 2014-15 ski season, the city pared down the winter daytime schedule in anticipation of a driver shortage. By mid-January, it had to scramble to restore more service by assembling a temporary fleet of smaller vehicles.

We've previously editorialized that a modest charge for riding the SST is a relatively painless way to maintain the stability of bus service while taking some of the budget pressure attributable to a "free-to-rider" transit system. With about 1.1 million passengers riding the SST bus a year, a nominal fare of 25 cents would create significant room in the city budget without harming low-income riders.

Among the reasons Steamboat residents deem bus service so important is that it reduces traffic congestion and vehicle emissions, while supporting people working in service jobs and the relative handful of vacationers who don't have access to condo shuttles.

We can foresee the day when public transit in the Yampa Valley is operated and funded by a transit authority with the ability to ask voters to approve a property tax to fund the service. That's the system that's been in place in the Roaring Fork Valley, serving bus riders from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, for many years.

In reality, there is no free bus.

At issue: City Council considers cutting back on spring bus service to trim $45,000 from 2018 budget.

Our view: If the city really wants to find more room in its budget, it should leave bus service intact and begin charging a modest fare.

Editorial Board
• Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher

• Lisa Schlichtman, editor

• Tom Ross, reporter

• Hannah Hoffman, community representative

• Bob Schneider, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com.

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