Senate bill threatens to eliminate Bustang funding
The Colorado Department of Transportation’s new and popular Bustang regional transit service that started in July may be on the chopping block if state legislators back a bill that would shift gas tax money away from the program.
Sponsored by state Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, Senate Bill 16-011, which was approved by the Colorado Senate Transportation Committee last week, would redirect $15 million in gas tax revenues within the FASTER program — Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery Act of 2009. Currently, $10 million of the roughly $200 million in annual income is earmarked for statewide transit programs such as Bustang, with another $5 million slated for local grants.
Neville thinks that violates the intent of the program.
“A fee is supposed to go to benefit the fee payers,” he said. “We have a tremendous problem of underfunding on actual transportation infrastructure. We don’t have underfunding for transit … (Senate Bill 16-011) basically takes the FASTER fee that is being diverted to transit and puts it backs into transportation safety, which is what we were promised that it was all about.”
Not everyone on the committee saw it that way. In the 3-2 split along party lines, Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, cast one of the dissenting votes.
“Mobility is a form of freedom, and I was disappointed that my Republican colleagues would put this freedom of movement at risk when Coloradans really need it,” she said. “Many of my constituents literally can’t drive, so they depend on transit to reach vital destinations like their doctor’s offices or their loved ones’ homes. Colorado is also becoming known worldwide for the progress we’ve made with transit, so it’s a shame Republicans would consider moving backward with a bill like this.”
The move also raised concerns at CDOT.
“We are absolutely opposed to this bill,” said communications director Amy Ford. “It would effectively eliminate Bustang.”
According to her, the $3 million that supports the regional bus service between Glenwood Springs, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Denver would be among the first axed.
“Bustang is the big item,” she said. “We don’t exactly have a huge funding pool.”
Currently, she said, the Glenwood Springs route averages between 30 and 40 passengers daily in each direction. On a few occasions, another 50-passenger bus has been brought in to accommodate all the passengers and luggage.
“The Bustang service has been very well-received in the public,” she said. “It demonstrates people’s desire for choice.”
At $28 for a one-way ticket from Glenwood to Denver, the agency is able to recoup about 60 percent of the overhead on the line and has even expanded the service to weekends.
“The west route in particular has been an incredible success,” she said. “It’s a full bus. It’s really been a pleasure to watch it grow.”
In fact, the agency is considering ways to expand the service, either by extending the route or by expanding the existing service to twice a day. If Neville’s bill passes, however, Ford believes the project will not just be back to square one, but in the hole.
“We have made investments already,” she said. “We own 13 vehicles and are purchasing three more.”
Neville doesn’t see Bustang’s demise as the only possible outcome.
“I believe there would be the political impetus to fund the program,” he said. “If these are worthwhile projects and they can stand on their merits, then the idea that the General Assembly or local government is not willing to fund these bears a lot of questions … I think it’s important that we take a look at where every dollar is going and make sure that we’re showing good stewardship.”
It’s still early in the process. The bill will have to go through three readings before it reaches a vote on the Senate floor. If approved, it would be subject to state House approval before being sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper for consideration.
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