City Council FYI: Co-benefits of transit
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Co-benefits is a term frequently used in the field of natural resource management. What is the outcome, and what are the co-benefits? When we preserve open space, we provide opportunities for wildlife to thrive, water to infiltrate rather than run off, enhanced air quality, carbon sequestration and the maintenance of iconic viewsheds. All of these are co-benefits.
Our transit service provides co-benefits, even to the people who never use it. A successful transit outcome is that people are transported safely. But even people who are never transported enjoy the co-benefits of transit.
Based on data from our local Greenhouse Gas Emissions Study, transportation is the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Routt County. It is No. 1 in the U.S. Transit buses provide an alternative to single-passenger vehicles and private shuttles that run around town half empty, if that. But if greenhouse gases don’t interest you, let’s talk parking. What would it look like if the tens of thousands of bus riders demanded front door parking at Steamboat Resort? Or downtown at local businesses?
In the winter, when our out-of-area visitors join us, we appreciate them getting around without having to drive on snow. A ride on the bus is an enhancement to the visitor experience with friendly drivers who help guests get to shopping, restaurants and bars.
COVID-19 has dealt transit a tough blow. State-mandated capacity reductions have buses running at 25%, and operational costs remain the same. With declining sales tax revenue as the principal source of funding for transit, it is hard to see how we move into winter without the wheels coming off the bus, at least for the Blue and Orange lines. As reported by Steamboat Pilot & Today in the July article, “City Council asks Ski Corp. for money to avoid making deep cuts to public transit,” losing these lines could adversely impact up to 300,000 people.
Since July, a task force has been analyzing whether we can save these lines this winter. But the bigger question for the group is whether we can secure dedicated funding for transit, as so many other mountain communities do.
Data from the Colorado Association of Transit Industries show Steamboat Springs in the minority in that we fund transit almost solely through the general fund. A more common approach is to use some combination of dedicated tax, often a lift ticket tax, contributions from the local ski area, revenues recovered from riders and a mix of federal and state grants.
The next time our task force meets, we’ll be talking about the new revenue-generating ideas we may have to bring to the table to be able to support a robust transit system. Spoiler alert, paid parking and paid ridership are both being discussed.
It pains me to think that we will not be able to fund the Blue and Orange lines this winter. Many local businesses and their employees will need to prepare for alternative transportation. I am writing this article now in hopes that this will not come as a surprise at the 11th hour.
Council wants to hear from you on this topic. How will this affect you or your business? What long-term changes to the transit revenue model ought we consider first? Contact us at steamboatsprings.net/96/council-members.
Sonja Macys represents District III on Steamboat Springs City Council.
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