Sep 032008
 
Authors: Shari Blackman

Community for Sustainable Energy, a local non-profit, is not waiting around for Fort Collins city government to act on its commitment to implement a “grid route” bus system by 2010.

Instead, volunteers are going door-to-door, soliciting letters and surveys from residents to determine what people want in mass transit.

“The city’s got a great rhetoric. They talk about being green and have this ‘Money Magazine’ reputation, but when it comes to getting things done, it’s not so great,” said Fred Kirsch, director of Community for Sustainable Energy. “We are putting the spotlight on them to make sure they get more done.”

The letters are going to Mayor Doug Hutchinson and Fort Collins City Council. So far, the group has generated 2,200 completed surveys.

“We are talking almost exclusively to riders of choice,” Kirsch said. These are the riders who are not dependent on the bus fortheir transportation needs, as opposed to “riders of necessity.”

In the surveys, 90 percent of people said they “rarely or never ride the bus,” Kirsch said.

But 75 to 80 percent of those people reported that they would ride the bus if it were more convenient.

This contrasts with a Transfort survey of 400 people in 2002. The majority of those surveyed said they would not use the bus.

Kirsch cited an increase in city traffic, higher gas prices and concerns about air pollution as reasons for this shift.

The current system is set up as a hub-and-spoke system.

All routes go through downtown or CSU, which are transfer points. Riders may wait up to an hour for a bus and then have to transfer to a bus that will take them to their destination.

This system was set up to serve downtown and CSU. Now that Fort Collins has spread out, the current system isn’t working for most people, Kirsch said.

He would like to see buses run up main streets no more than half a mile apart. This would bring buses within one-quarter mile of most people.

Adesuwa Elaihow, a senior food safety and nutrition major, rides the bus to campus from her home near Taft Hill and Elizabeth.

She said she is sometimes late to class when the bus arrives late or full and that waiting for another bus can take up to 30 minutes.

Though, sometimes, two buses share a route to accommodate a greater number of students.

“It’s kind of hard to measure out when it’s going to come,” Elaihow said. “It just takes getting used to.”

Kurt Ravenschlag, assistant general manager for Transfort and Dial-a-Ride, has been working closely with Community for Sustainable Energy. He said ridership has increased significantly in the past two years, with bus usage up 17 percent in 2008. In 2007, there was a 10 percent increase in bus usage.

In a normal year, a 2 to 3 percent increase would be good, Ravenschlag said.

Ravenschlag attributed these large increases to Fort Collins population growth, an aging populace and a community that “prides itself on environmental leadership.”

He supports the move to a grid system and has set up a committee of community members to find money for restructuring the current system. An increase in taxes is one possible source of revenue.

“It all boils down to funding,” Ravenschlag said. A new expanded system could more than double the current budget of $8.5 million.

Ravenschlag said the immediate goal is to straighten out routes and reduce travel times so that people can be served more efficiently.

Community for Sustainable Energy’s current push is to get the word out. They plan to put an initiative to the voters in April’s election. The ballot initiative “would be a very specific plan,” Kirsch said, adding that people would be told exactly how their tax money would be spent.

Community for Sustainable Energy is citizen-funded.

“People in multi-million dollar homes want the bus system,” Kirsch said. “And they are spending money to get it.”

Staff writer Shari Blackman can be reached at news@collegain.com

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