Local public transportation question lingers

Cost to government entities could multiply four to five times

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There may be a solution to Craig's lack of public transportation but at an estimated cost of $25,000 to $50,000 a year, city and county officials say an on-call bus system isn't the answer.

They aren't even sure if there's a problem to be solved.

City and county officials met Tuesday night for a transportation workshop at which the goal was to find a way to qualify for federal money but the strings attached to those dollars come at too high a price, many of those attending said.

"What started as a simple task turned into quite a project," City Manager Jim Ferree said. "We will have to essentially develop a general public transportation plan."

Independent Life Center director Evelyn Tileston proposed amending the city's 1999 transportation plan to qualify for a federal Section 5311 grant to subsidize the costs of operating a wheelchair-accessible van that serves Craig's disabled population. It also was hoped those funds could be used for the Moffat County senior citizen van.

But those federal dollars can't be used for either of those projects alone.

"We can't just isolate services to seniors and the disabled, we have to make them available to the general public," Ferree said about the conditions of the grant.

The city and county jointly hired a consultant in November to evaluate the need for a public transportation system and estimate the potential price.

The consultant said there could be 33,356 riders a year with approximately 22,400 of those being new customers not currently served by the ILC or the senior van.

At $1.50 per ride and operating conservatively -- 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday only -- the gap between revenues and expenditures is estimated to cost the city and county up to $50,000 -- if they get the number of riders the consultant estimates.

Moffat County Housing Authority Director Keith Antonson said the costs he presented for the response-on-demand service are conservative.

He estimated the federal grant could bring in $60,000 a year to offset the $171,049-a-year operating cost of the service. It would have to be reapplied for every two years with no guarantee funding would continue at that level.

There are federal funds available for the purchase of additional vans, which Antonson included, but replacement of those vehicles wasn't accounted for in the preliminary budget.

"This is really the conservative way to get your feet wet," he said.

The city and county already are subsidizing existing services to the tune of nearly $54,000 and kick in another $20,000 to subsidize a commuter bus between Craig and Steamboat Springs.

"What it's costing the city now may increase substantially over coming years if we decide to jump into this and the same goes for Moffat County," Ferree said.

City Councilor Joe Herod suggested increasing the $1.50-per-ride fee to make up for the shortfall, but the consultant recommended the fee not be more than $2 to still serve one of the target populations -- low-income residents.

"Really, the bottom line is, is the federal grant going to be worth what it's going to cost us?" City Councilor Don Jones said.

Antonson and Ferree were asked to determine what the need was for public transportation before an official decision was made.

"It looks to me it's going to cost us three, four even five times what we pay now. What's it going to gain us?" Mayor Dave DeRose asked. "It looks like we're able to meet those needs now."

Opinion on whether residents' transportation needs were being met was divided, with Ferree saying that's a difficult question to answer.

"If there's really that much need out there, why hasn't it come to us instead of us going after it and throwing money at something that may not be needed," Moffat County Commissioner Darryl Steele said.

The failure of several local taxi services was put forth as an example of a lack of demand.

Another possible solution is increasing the subsidy for the ILC van so it could run more than three days a week.

"That seems to make a lot more sense than creating a whole other monster," DeRose said.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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