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Transit issue hits home

Between the Lines



Most people hear about our severely reduced transit service and shrug in sympathetic ignorance. It's not affecting them. Just somebody else, those emotionless faces sitting on the benches, waiting for the next bus.

My awareness level is much higher, for one reason. That would be my 31-year-old son, Mitch Routon, one of Mountain Metro's best customers. He lives at Cheyenne Village, the enclave for adults with developmental disabilities in Manitou Springs, a quarter-mile walk from where he can access the route that runs between Manitou and downtown Colorado Springs.

Like many who ride the bus, Mitch doesn't have other options. He can't drive because of the stroke he had at 10 days old and his years of seizures as a child. (Thankfully, he grew out of them.) He conquered the bus system in the 1990s, taking it throughout the metro area. But as of this year, if he's going to or from anywhere — including his job at Safeway — after 6 p.m. during the week or anytime on weekends, he has to find a ride ... or walk.

So when City Council took up the idea Monday of perhaps reviving bus service on Saturdays or evenings in 2011, it mattered on a personal level. I called to give Mitch a report, asking which he'd prefer. It was 6:30, so he was walking. But he didn't hesitate.

"I'd like to have both," Mitch said, huffing. "I know there's a lot of people who would like to have weekend service. Saturday would help, not just for me but for everyone else. There's a lot of times when I have to go somewhere, and I can't."

The young man might have challenges in his life, but he always has been able to communicate. He's thought about going to City Council himself and talking about bus service, but as he puts it, "I'm afraid I might say something that would get my dad in trouble."

The transit riders didn't know about Council's discussion Monday, but that was OK, because clearly the city's elected leaders want to restore whatever they can. Tom Gallagher brought up providing more for those with service jobs on Fort Carson, even if they're coming from Security and Widefield. Jan Martin talked about knowing people who have lost their jobs because of transit cutbacks. She noted that "51 percent of those who use the bus make less than $15,000 a year," which would include Mitch.

Vice Mayor Larry Small pointed out that Colorado ranks 13th among the 50 states in per capita income, "but half of our transit riders live in poverty." He also reacted harshly upon hearing that funds seem to be available for capital projects related to transit but not for operations (actual service).

"Our whole transportation policy in this state is a shambles... being flown by the seat of the pants," Small said. "We need to take care of the people in Colorado Springs."

There was a suggestion of reviving night service for busier routes, but Councilor Randy Purvis pushed for all routes. One idea would bring back weeknight service until 9:15 p.m. I shared this with Mitch and asked for his input.

"I know they probably don't want to do this, but Monday through Saturday, I'd have the buses go until 9:15," Mitch said. "That'd be the best, but asking the city to do more hours is like me asking to get a full-time job. It's probably never gonna happen.

"We've gotta stop talking politics, Dad. My blood pressure's going up."

I had been wondering how to humanize this issue. Can't come up with a better way.

It looks like the city could have enough money to spend at least $1 million more on transit in 2011. With budget talks beginning next week, some on City Council say they might eliminate the FrontRange Express to Denver and restore as much local service as they can.

And if they want to hear from someone who would support that, Mitch will jump on the next Route 3 bus and be there.

Because of space limitations, Ralph Routon's End Zone sports column will appear only online this week at here. Also, Rich Tosches is on vacation, but his Ranger Rich column will return next week.

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