The public is dead-set against cutting the FrontRange Express bus, a city transit official told City Council on Monday.
Following four public meetings on the proposed elimination of FREX, which takes riders between Colorado Springs and Denver, city transit planning supervisor David Menter reported that his department received 115 comments about FREX. Only two supported the change. City staff also received a citizen petition against cutting FREX that attracted 800-plus signatures.
Menter says FREX supporters have various concerns.
"A few of them: that it is a well-used service; that it provides transit service to northern El Paso County, which is in the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation district; and that it should continue until [the Colorado Department of Transportation] can take it over... ; and that it allows residents to keep living here in El Paso County, especially when the job market locally is so tight."
Funding FREX has been a perennial battle. Once paid for via a federal grant, with the intention that local governments would co-fund it in future years, FREX's $2 million budget is now covered by grants, ads (on buses and shelters), fees, and the PPRTA, a voter-approved dedicated sales tax.
Mayor Steve Bach's Transit Solutions Team recently proposed cutting FREX by summer's end, looking to direct its money to other services, likely the fixed-route buses that shuttle many poor residents to jobs and appointments.
But others say it's the wrong time to cancel the service, which has attracted sought-after "choice" riders who could otherwise be clogging Interstate 25 with cars. And the state has said it may take over funding FREX soon, and expand the service across the Front Range.
"My concern is if we end FREX it's going to be 10 times more difficult to restart it 18 months from now, when CDOT might be able to take over the program," Councilor Merv Bennett said.
Indeed, many Councilors seemed wary of cutting FREX on Monday, and mayoral Chief of Staff Laura Neumann said the mayor's office was also looking at alternative options, after receiving flak for the proposal. But Neumann said transit cuts are needed.
Transit, which is paid for with city general fund dollars and PPRTA dollars, has had to dip into general fund reserves to fund services this year. Neumann characterized transit as being $800,000 "short" on its budget, and thus "unsustainable." That led Councilor Brandy Williams to question why the city doesn't simply expand the general fund budget for transit.
Voters might ask the same question. In 2004, when voters approved funding expansion of transit through the PPRTA tax, it was agreed that the city would maintain or increase its general fund transit budget, which was then about $5.7 million.
Currently, the city's general fund transit budget is just $3.6 million, violating the PPRTA's "maintenance of effort" clause.