Briefs Rural Transportation Authority

Fate of Cement Creek stop may be in hands of bus drivers
The possibility of using a portion of the Niccoli Ranch to construct a bus pull-off or Park and Ride for residents in and around Crested Butte South has been put to rest. The Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority received a letter from the Crested Butte Land Trust last week stating the conservation group’s intent to protect the Niccoli Ranch from future development, withholding their support of building a bus stop on it.


Building a Park and Ride near the intersection of Cement Creek Road and Highway 135 has been discussed as a mass transit option for over a decade. The issue of public transportation to and from Crested Butte South gained attention this spring, when several residents of Crested Butte South and even a bus driver wrote letters to the RTA asking for a safer way to catch the RTA bus rather than cross the highway. One letter suggested asking the Land Trust to allow the RTA to build a bus stop on the Niccoli Parcel.
The Park and Ride would keep people from crossing the road and keep the bus stopping on the west side of the highway. The RTA has had conversations with the Land Trust over the summer, but no deals were made.
In the letter, Land Trust executive director Ann Johnston warns against amending the Niccoli conservation easement or even condemning the land, which the RTA has the ability to do. “Ultimately our response is guided and informed by the mission of our organization, to permanently protect open lands for recreation, wildlife and agriculture… It is crucial to the viability of CBLT that supporters, funders and proponents of conservation find our organization credible, trustworthy and consistent. By setting precedence of condemning open space (or amending the easement), it will be much more difficult for CBLT to obtain funding from local supporters and grant sources,” Johnston writes.
In the mean time, the RTA is about to renew its contract with a transit company to provide the RTA bus service. Alpine Express has been providing this service for over a year now, but the RTA gives all transit companies the chance to make a bid each year.
As part of the process, the RTA is giving interested companies the option to calculate what a unique service to Crested Butte South would actually cost. “We put an option in for the transit provider to consider. It’s not free, despite what some letter writers think,” RTA director Scott Truex says.
The RTA is providing this option due to a daily activity inherent in the bus schedule. Every day, in both directions, there are three scheduled buses that do not make an immediate return trip. The RTA is asking companies to calculate what it would cost to have those buses make a trip between Crested Butte and Crested Butte South, before ending the route at a maintenance shop. The RTA board will later decide whether to proceed with the additional service. Truex says the trips may not be at ideal times, but the idea could be an option.
In a memo to the board last week, Truex calculated that a dedicated bus from the Four-way Stop to Crested Butte South could cost $96 per hour to operate. To provide nine round-trips a day could add up to over $300,000 a year. Providing 20-minute service similar to a Mountain Express bus schedule could cost over a million dollars a year.
Together with Crested Butte South Property Owners Association manager Chris Behan, Truex estimated that Crested Butte South residents paid $21,780 toward the RTA bus in 2008 sales tax.

Challenge of splitting air and ground will remain yearly exercise
After a lengthy process deciding how air and ground funds should be managed during 2010, the RTA was about to consider splitting up the budget—taking a specific ratio of revenues for air and ground transportation each year, and allocating those funds to operational expenses in each category.
The RTA has a $1 million-plus budget, and their primary source of revenue is a fraction of sales tax. The amount of money the group spends on either air or ground transportation varies each year. In 2006 air transportation took up 81 percent of the budget. In 2008 it was 62 percent.
Following the board’s consideration of the 2010 budget and the ratio between air and ground earlier this summer (which was started in advance due to the weak economy), director Scott Truex says he proposed the idea of splitting the budget and focusing on one category at a time. “It was my idea originally—rather than having air and ground compete for money each year they would be handled separately,” he says. That would mean each year a specific amount of revenue would be set aside for ground transportation, and a specific amount for air.
But in the past month, Truex says, he’s thought it through and it wasn’t such a good idea, in part because there could be four new board members next year and they might have a different take on the situation. The current RTA board agreed to let the idea go during a meeting last Friday.
The RTA’s 2010 budget will not be finalized until later this fall.

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