Bus services can’t connect
Grand Valley Transit, Greyhound snagged in facility negotiation
A project to combine Greyhound with the recently constructed Grand Valley Transit facility downtown continues to plod along — despite much lower profit projections and continued protestations from the chair of the transit group considering the proposal.
“We’re not a business. We are managing a taxpayer-subsidized service (in GVT). There’s a great obligation that goes with that. To me the obligation includes, don’t launch into risky ventures,” said Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who doubles as chairman of the Grand Valley Regional Transportation Committee, the group that oversees the local transit service.
Acquafresca made his comments during a February workshop to discuss the proposed GVT-Greyhound partnership at a remodeled facility at the southeast corner of Fifth Street and South Avenue. The current GVT Operations Center — built in 2009 for around $4 million — would need about $1.6 million in rehabilitation to accommodate a new partnership with Greyhound. Most of that amount would be provided in grant funding.
Acquafresca, though, has just one vote on the transit board and has been outnumbered so far by at least two other members: Grand Junction City Councillor Laura Luke and Palisade Trustee Penny Prinster.
Both continue to support the project, even as previous projections of profit appear to dwindle with each step of the negotiations thus far.
“Greyhound is a very vital part of what we are doing. I think a multimodal transportation facility is part of keeping our city progressive and moving forward — and my council members agree with that,” Luke recently said.
“I think the idea of a transit hub just makes so much sense, because it gives riders more options,” Prinster said.
“Profit is not a dirty word, and we need to look at all the doors that this could open and move forward,” Luke said.
Profit, or a new revenue source, has been central to the proposed merger from the beginning. GVT staff would take on Greyhound ticketing, provide additional staffing and likely hire 24-hour security to accommodate travelers at all hours.
GVT had initially proposed to take a commission on those new ticket sales — which likely would generate an annual profit — but the latest negotiations call for a “fixed-fee” from Greyhound every year, to presumably guarantee that GVT makes money no matter how many Greyhound tickets are sold.
The possibility of even a small profit is attractive to officials, in that historically they have been able to turn that new revenue into about four times as much in grant dollars.
A business analysis showed that GVT could turn an annual net profit of about $90,000 with a $225,000 fixed-fee contract negotiated with Greyhound.
But that profit number seems fairly far off now, as Greyhound has said it will not consider any annual fixed fee above $200,000, officials said. That cuts significantly into the potential profit that has been the driver of the project from the beginning.
The fourth voting member of the board, Fruita City Councillor Stacey Mascarenas, said she was “just really disappointed” with Greyhound’s initial offer.
“We’re getting lower and lower, and we’re just not seeing the money that we had hoped for,” said Mascarenas, who more and more is looking like the swing vote on the four-member transit board on this project.
Acquafresca reinforced his position based on the initial Greyhound feedback, calling it “substantially less than what we originally anticipated” and “far and away below what was envisioned when we started this research.”
He is also pointedly concerned about other research presented to the board about similar partnerships between community transit systems and Greyhound in Durango, Eagle, Pueblo and Fort Collins.
Each of those communities expressed some serious concerns with their Greyhound deals: issues of communication, lower revenues than projected and wrestling with Greyhound’s technology system, which still is DOS-based in a number of stations.
“(The issues raised) kind of speak to what our county board was sensing in each of these three examples. Greyhound is a really poor partner,” Acquafresca said. He characterized the Fort Collins partnership as a “nightmare.”
Luke had a different view of the negative feedback the group received from the other transit partnerships, seeing more of an opportunity to make sure their contract with Greyhound heads off many of the big issues.
“We can become more profitable based on the mistakes that they have made,” Luke said. “We are willing to do our homework to implement the safeguards in our contracts, so that we can take advantage of the mistakes that they have made and protect ourselves from it — and come out ahead, if we are smart.”
Prinster also downplayed the “cons” reported by other transit systems, saying most of the concerns could be addressed in an air-tight, detailed contract with Greyhound.
Whether that kind of contract is even possible now is still very much up in the air. Aside from a previous single appearance at a transit board meeting by a Greyhound representative — Acquafresca called his remarks “not very forthcoming” and said he “was not impressed” — no one from the bus service has attended the multiple meetings and workshops on the issue.
Greyhound also rebuffed an idea to front the roughly $250,000 in matching funds needed to attain the grant money for the GVT building’s rehabilitation — money that right now will need to be put up by GVT, putting on the back burner other efforts, like swapping out its fleet of buses with CNG vehicles.
An idea for Grand Junction’s Downtown Development Authority to come up with that match money has possibilities, but would need to be formally requested before any deal is even considered.
“Quite frankly, I’m unwilling to take a chance with taxpayer dollars. I’m unwilling to gamble with it,” Acquafresca said in reference to GVT’s taxpayer-funded coffers.
His objections might not matter. As the single dissenting vote so far on the transit board, officials have continued to pursue the project, securing a tentative award for state FASTER funds in 2015 for the building remodel. The transit board has not formally accepted the award, pending its contract negotiations with Greyhound.
Even though the four members of the transit board have equal weight when it comes to voting, the municipalities they represent fund the Regional Transit Planning Office at very different levels.
While Mesa County will provide 65 percent of the transit organization’s local funding in 2013, Grand Junction will provide 30 percent, and Fruita and Palisade will provide just 3 percent and 2 percent, respectively.